Editorial: Is there a creative solution to Right to Work

Founding Publisher Sam Waltz

Among the stories I covered as a young newspaper reporter in 1976, one that sticks out is the story of a Delaware public employee who crossed a picket line in order to do the right thing.

State employees of the Delaware Hospital for the Chronically Ill at Smyrna had a “closed shop” union contract that required any employee covered by the contract to become a union member and pay dues. At the same time, Delaware law forbade public employees from striking.

The population at the hospital was older, chronically ill and in need of constant attention and care just to survive. Lack of such attention could be life threatening.

That year, public employees went on strike at the hospital, leaving management to “tread water” to maintain a normal routine without loss of life.

One union employee — whose name, like some of the other details of that 40-plus-year-ago incident, is lost to me — was so dedicated to his fragile patients (and perhaps enough of a law-keeper, not a law-breaker) that he crossed the picket line so he could tend to his patients.

Because the union held the right to revoke union membership, and because under the closed shop law employees had no “Right to Work” without membership, it effectively held the power to fire employees.

In that case, to quell dissent, the union threatened to cancel his membership, effectively a threat to fire him. I don’t recall the details of how the case played out, but the union was able to put his job on the line due to the closed shop law. Such is the power of Big Labor in Delaware.

I’m a fan of labor. I come from a Democratic family. I’m a lifelong Democrat, and both my mother and my former wife were NEA-affiliated teachers’ union members. I’ve done work with organized labor, and I count a number of labor leaders as personal friends.

The labor movement has been good for America and employers — in particular through union apprenticeship programs that train people for the trades and help build the middle class.

But Big Labor’s unwillingness to budge, even a tiny bit, is not unlike the NRA’s unwillingness to budge on gun control initiatives, or even like the pro-abortion or pro-life movements’ unwillingness to compromise.

Sam Lathem, former head of the AFL-CIO, is a personal friend of mine, a man I trust so much I’d lend him my wallet to carry for a week (despite the paucity of its contents)! Because Right to Work as a policy is so essential to Delaware’s campaign to recruit new employers and create job development, I asked Sam if he thought there was possibility for some exemptions, e.g., an Enterprise Zone, or some municipality effectively securing the RTW.

“Right to Work? There’ll be no compromising. It’s one of those issues you really don’t want to give an inch on,” Sam told me. “If ever it’s done, it will be over the top of labor, without labor’s agreement.”

The state is at loggerheads on this issue that is so critical to job creation and job development. Maybe some creative young policy maker, official, or business person needs to find a better way.

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