New National "Right to Work" Bill Threatens Hollywood Unions

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Legislation introduced in Congress with little fanfare Tuesday could decimate Hollywood unions and further accelerate the decline of unions nationwide by allowing workers across the country to opt out of paying union dues or fees even if they receive the benefits of a union-negotiated contract.

The result, union activists contend, would be to bankrupt unions nationwide by starving them of dues or other fees paid in lieu of dues. That would appear to be a welcome result for both management and Republicans, as unions are one of the few institutional supports left for the Democratic party, even though many union members apparently voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

Similar statutes, referred to as Right to Work laws, exist in 27 states, including such newer production centers as Georgia, Louisiana and Florida. The new bill, H.R. 785, which Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Joe Wilson (R-SC) introduced in the House, would extend right to work to all states nationwide. It’s been introduced in previous sessions, but this time there’s a president who, according to a source, has said he would sign it.

Under current law, workers in non-right to work states, such as California and New York, can elect so-called financial core, or fi-core, status under which they are not required to join a union. Someone who goes fi-core — a choice that only about 1 percent of Hollywood union members have made — must pay "agency" or "fair share" fees in lieu of dues to finance the union’s work from which they benefit. Those fees can be around 90 percent of full dues, as fi-core members have no obligation to pay for a union's political work.

"The National Right to Work Act will … eras[e] the forced-dues clauses in federal statute without adding a single letter to federal law," said King. His co-sponsor, Wilson, said, "At least 80 percent of Americans are opposed to forcing employees to pay dues as a condition of their employment. … We need to expand common-sense reforms … to protect American workers and create jobs."

But ranking Democrats on the relevant House committees fired back.

"This legislation clearly has one purpose: to undermine the capacity of unions to protect workers and defund them," said Reps. Bobby Scott (VA) and Peter DeFazio (OR) in a joint statement. "This bill is a direct attack on workers and their families by weakening unions' ability to collectively bargain and negotiate for good wages and benefits. Studies show that diminishing unions leads to lower wages and salaries for union and non-union workers alike. This is why wages are lower in so-called right to work (RTW) states than those that are not, costing families up to thousands of dollars each year."

They added, "The RTW bill is a backdoor attempt at bankrupting labor unions, forcing them to provide services for people who do not pay dues. This radical bill would create an unfunded federal mandate that overrides a state's wishes by requiring private labor organizations to support free riders without limitation. This bill is nothing more than a gift to anti-worker special interests."

Two Hollywood unions weighed in as well.

“Right to work is just plain wrong,” said American Federation of Musicians president Ray Hair. “It’s wrong for musicians and it’s wrong for all working people. States with right to work laws have lower wages, higher poverty rates, lower health insurance coverage rates, and more workplace fatalities. These are the facts— and the fact is right to work is wrong.”

“The real agenda in Congress is to weaken the power of hard-working citizens by crushing the American labor movement,” said Writers Guild of America, East president Michael Winship and executive director Lowell Peterson in a joint statement. “The far-right … aim[s] to wipe out the workers’ most dedicated advocates.” (Read the entire statement below.)

Other Hollywood unions and guilds, and the AMPTP studio alliance, did not offer comment.


WGA East statement:

“One of the strange perennial rituals of Beltway Washington is the introduction of legislation to destroy the only effective voice American workers have on the job. Mislabeled “National Right to Work,” this legislation -- introduced yet again by far-right congressmen Steve King (R-Iowa) and Joe Wilson (R-SC) -- intends to cut organized labor off at the knees by making it impossible to finance the tough work put in by American unions to represent and protect working people.

“Strong sturdy unions are essential to organize workplaces, to negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements and to do the day-to-day hard work of making sure that workers’ voices are heard when it’s time to make critical decisions about pay, benefits, working conditions and more.

“This misguided legislation ignores the basic structure of American labor relations, in which all workers in a given company or bargaining unit are represented by the same union and covered by the same collective bargaining agreement with the same right to representation. The union is obligated to represent everyone, and it makes sense that everyone is therefore obligated to pay their fair share.

“In other countries, the system is different; in other countries, unions function at the national level and the federal government sits at the bargaining table to force management to agree to terms. In America, our labor relations are based on the idea that everyone benefits from the same union contract.

“Of course, the real agenda in Congress is to weaken the power of hard-working citizens by crushing the American labor movement. There’s a bitter irony here: The far-right claims to support the newly-elected president’s promise to first and foremost use the federal government to advance the interests of the American worker, but with this legislation they aim to wipe out the workers’ most dedicated advocates.

“The best way to advance the interests of the American worker is to use collective bargaining to strengthen the voice of workers on the job. Defunding the entire structure of workers’ voices will only hasten the decline of our standard of living. Shame on Reps. King and Wilson, and all those who sign off on legislation that will purposely harm American workers.”

2/3/2017 11:09 a.m. PT Updated with AFM and WGAE statements.

2/7/2017 8:22 a.m. PT Updated by accurate bill number (correcting error from Congressional source) and with note regarding Trump’s position on national RTW