Photo courtesy Voice of America
As the U.S., Canada and Mexico renegotiate the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canada has raised right-to-work laws as a threat to Canadian jobs and wages. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s bill would meet the Canadian demand by repealing right-to-work laws nationwide.  

Two progressive senators introduced a single-page bill that would end right-to-work laws.  

More than half of U.S. states have right-to-work laws on the books. If a proposed Senate bill passes, they would be erased.
Image courtesy Wikimedia

During a Senate meeting Sept. 20, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts introduced a bill that would repeal the sections of the 70-year-old Taft-Hartley Act that allow states to enact right-to-work legislation

If passed, no one who benefited from a collective bargaining agreement would be able to avoid paying their share to negotiate and enforce it.

Warren said she introduced the bill to coincide with the fourth round of meetings among Canada, Mexico and U.S. to reshape the North American Free Trade Agreement in early October.

"The country is in the middle of renegotiating NAFTA, which was a bad deal for American workers," Warren said. "If we want to protect workers and expect a level playing field in international trade deals, we need to start at home — and that means banning states from imposing restrictions that prevent workers from joining together to fight for their future."

Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York were the first co-sponsors of the “Protecting Workers and Improving Labor Standards Act” and have since been joined by Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. The bill also has six co-sponsors in the House.

There are no Republican co-sponsors, and with majorities in both houses of Congress and President Trump in the White House, the bill’s chance of passage is not great.

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio was the first of 12 co-sponsors, six in the Senate and six in the House.
photo courtesy AFL-CIO

 But, said IBEW Political and Legislative Department Director Austin Keyser, the NAFTA negotiations make it necessary to try.

“The president says he wants to renegotiate NAFTA, at least in part, because cheap labor and lax worker protections in Mexico hurt Americans,” Keyser said. “Our position, and the position of the Canadian government, is that right-to-work laws do the exact same thing to Canadian workers and American workers outside right-to-work states.”

Twenty-seven states have enacted so-called right-to-work legislation. Most states in the South acted as soon as Taft-Hartley was passed in 1947, but five states -- Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri—have adopted right-to-work laws since 2012.

Despite claims made by corporate lobbyists that push that they improve local economies and create new jobs, right-to-work states have slower growth, lower wages, worse job safety and shorter life expectancies. It’s a boon to some companies and their CEOs, but hurt employers who do right by their workers.

Right-to-work isn’t bad only because it hammers workers’ wallets, Keyser said.

“Joining in union with other people is a right that comes from the Constitution. States shouldn’t have been allowed to limit our rights to free speech and assembly to begin with,” Keyser said. “It is long past time we got rid of laws that not only rig the economy, they take away our freedoms.”