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Protecting the Right to Work

By TCCRI Staff. Oct. 10, 2019

Imagine applying for a job which fits your skills, pays a solid wage, and promises opportunities for further advancement. To your delight, your prospective employer calls you to inform you it wishes to offer you the job, but there is a catch: as a condition of employment, you will have to join a labor organization whose values don’t necessarily align with yours, pay dues to that organization, and be subject to the organization’s rules even though you never voted for them.

Fortunately, the above scenario cannot happen in Texas. Texans’ traditional embrace of individual liberty is reflected in state law, which makes Texas a “right to work” state. This means that a person cannot be discriminated against in employment due to non-membership in a labor union. In recent years, however, there has been an effort to do an end run around this law in Texas and similar laws in other right to work states by requiring publicly-funded projects to be subject to so-called project labor agreements (PLAs).

As the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has noted, “A project labor agreement requires all contractors, whether they are unionized or not, to subject themselves and their employees to unionization in order to work on a government-funded construction project.” Among other things, PLAs may require contractors to grant union officials monopoly bargaining privileges over all workers and to use exclusive union hiring halls. In addition, workers may be forced to pay union dues, regardless of whether they support their unions.

PLAs undermine the entire purpose of right to work by setting aside work specifically for unionized labor, thereby effectively discriminating against workers who exercise their right to not join a union. Discriminating against workers who choose not to join a union is objectionable by itself, but especially so considering that PLAs involve the spending of taxpayer dollars. Moreover, projects subject to PLAs cost taxpayers more; for example, a 2017 study by the Beacon Hill Institute found that PLAs increased the cost of school construction projects in Ohio by 13 percent. Of course, part of that cost increase can be attributed to fewer contract bids because PLA requirements reduce competition.

To address the problem of PLAs, the Texas Legislature enacted House Bill 985, which went into effect on September 1st. Under Texas law prior to the passage of HB 985, nothing prevented a public entity (such as a school district, for example) from requiring the use of a PLA when awarding a public work contract funded with state money. Under the new law, an entity awarding a public work contract paid for by the state may not discriminate against a bidder simply because of the bidder’s refusal to have the project governed by a PLA. Given PLAs’ inherent discrimination against workers who prefer not to join a union, it is not surprising that HB 985 makes Texas the 24th state since 2009 to prohibit them in public projects.

The fundamental issue at stake with PLAs is workers’ freedom of choice. Should state dollars be spent in a manner that effectively penalizes workers for deciding not to join a union? The common-sense answer to this question- and one consistent with longstanding Texas law- is no.

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