On Saturday, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) advocated a federal ban on right-to-work laws, which have been adopted by 26 states. These important laws give workers the choice of whether or not to join or pay dues or fees to the labor union that ostensibly represents them. These unions often have political stances that do not represent their workers, so the ability to opt out of paying or joining them is important for workers’ First Amendment rights.
Yet on Saturday, Harris advocated forced union membership for workers, in the name of worker freedom. George Orwell would be proud.
Speaking at a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) event on Saturday, Harris warned that “the barriers to organized labor being able to organize and strike are something that have grown over a period of time and we need to address that” through both laws and the “bully pulpit.”
“Let’s be more specific: It has to be about, for example, banning right-to-work laws,” Harris declared, without skipping a beat. “That needs to happen.” She also called for increased “penalties on corporations that stand in the way of organized labor being able to do the work that is about advocating for working people.”
Democrats have often branded right-to-work laws as somehow anti-worker-freedom, but the exact opposite is the case. These laws merely enable employees to opt out of joining a union or paying dues to a union as a condition of employment. Workers should not get fired because they refuse to join a political club, even if that political club claims to represent their interests.
As Reason‘s Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote, “In the topsy-turvy world of Harris and other Democrats, … giving workers options is no good. … Sure, some low-income workers might think their hard-earned dollars are better spent on securing immediate material well-being for them and their families. But Harris thinks their dollars would be better off with a massive and bloated international organization that can help her presidential campaign.”
Last year in the decision Janus v. AFSCME (2018), the Supreme Court ruled that no government employee can be fired for refusing to financially support a union. This decision struck down mandatory “agency fees” that unions required from employees who refused to become dues-paying members. These fees were imposed because they ostensibly went to support only “non-political” aspects of the unions.
Yet the supposedly non-political agency fees at AFSCME — the union Mark Janus was forced to support — went to promoting Democrat Hillary Clinton at the union’s 2016 convention. Janus’s local union, AFSCME Council 31, spent $268,855 for “convention expense,” taking this money from the funds gathered by “non-political” agency fees. That convention featured a lengthy “AFSCME FOR HILLARY” program, culminating with a speech from the candidate herself.
Yet the most perverse situation involved Debora Nearman, a systems analyst for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Nearman refused to join her local union, SEIU 503, because she opposes the union’s positions on collective bargaining and its political positions in favor of abortion (Nearman is a devout Roman Catholic).
In 2016, the SEIU forced Nearman to pay $1,258.91. After fighting to opt out, she received a refund of $273.68. That same year, her husband, Mike Nearman, ran for state representative. While he won that election, the very union his wife had to support spent $53,260 to oppose him.
Debora Nearman was forced to pay nearly $1,000 to an organization that actively opposes her religious beliefs and opposed her own husband’s political campaign.
To make matters worse, the SEIU launched ads painting her husband as a criminal and claiming that he didn’t care about disabled people — even though Debora Nearman suffers from a progressive neuro-muscular disease. “I was just heartbroken to see that,” the wife told the Associated Press.
Right-to-work laws help protect workers from horrendous situations like those of Mark Janus and Debora Nearman. Of course, workers should be free to join any union that does represent their interests and political positions. Right-to-work laws merely ensure that employees who disagree with a union are not forced to decide between supporting that union or losing their jobs.
The Supreme Court upheld this basic freedom last year, and it is shameful for Kamala Harris to suggest that freedom should be stripped away from workers.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.”
Kamala Harris is a tyrant, and it seems the 2020 Democratic primary is moving ever more inexorably in that direction.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.