SEPTEMBER 22, 1956
NEW YORK—There is a very serious question which now is being discussed and which I think many of us have to think through more carefully than in the past.
Laws have been passed in 17 states which are called "right to work laws." They prohibit barring anyone from holding a job because he is either a member or nonmember of a union and the making of membership in a union a condition of employment.
These laws are causing considerable trouble because they interfere with the free-bargaining rights of unions with employers.
If a contract is made whereby the employer agrees not to employ a non-union man, then it seems that the contract should be lived up to. But wherever such a contract is not part of an agreement with an employer, then it is perfectly obvious that an employer is free to employ both union and non-union labor.
The point made by the people who advocate "right to work laws" is that no one should be forced to join a union. That is certainly incontrovertible. But unions have been established as a protection to labor, and without the protection of the union, even non-unionized labor probably would have a much harder time, since the gains made for labor all have been achieved through the efforts of unions. No one man alone has any strength, but when he is joined in a union, he is able to make advances and obtain things for his membership. Once something is obtained for union members, even the non-union workers who may be employed in the plant have to be given the same advantages.
Therefore, the man who does not join a union is benefitting from the support of the union without taking on the responsibility of giving the union his support. This is not a good position for any worker to take, and if properly explained to him, I think the great number of non-unionized workers would join a union.
We must, however, accept the fact that a man has a right to refrain from joining a union, but in doing that, one must also accept the fact that he can only exercise this right in areas where no previous commitments have been made by the employers.
The "right to work laws" have confused this situation and I think they are harmful to labor's position in this country. I hope very much that it will be possible to repeal them in the 17 states where they have been adopted and to prevent their adoption in other states.