By Tyler Kovacs
Oregon is a famously liberal state, so it is no surprise that the state has initiatives and referendums concerning gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana among other liberal causes on the 2014 ballot. However there is one less predictable item gathering support across the Northwestern state: Right-to-Work legislation.
The proposed measure, the Public Employee Choice Act, would prohibit a labor union from forcing membership or dues on public employees of the state of Oregon.
Proponents of the legislation believe the act may be able to jumpstart Oregon’s economy, create jobs, and encourage business. Supporters hope the act could help lower the state’s eight percent unemployment rate. Eric Fruits, Ph.D. and Randall J. Pozdena, Ph.D. of The Cascade Policy Institute, a free-market policy organization based in Portland, explain how Right-to-Work legislation could benefit the Oregon economy in their study, “Right to Work is Right for Oregon.”
They concluded that if a Right-to-Work law had been enacted in Oregon in 2012, the same year Indiana and Michigan passed their laws, that:
“In 2016, Oregon would have 50,000 more people working… By 2021, 110,000 more people would be working in Oregon… By 2016, the state’s personal income would be $4.1 billion higher and wage and salary income would be $2.7 billion higher… By 2021, the state’s personal income would be $10.8 billion higher and wage and salary income would be $7.0 billion higher.”
The authors estimate enacting a Right-to-Work law would benefit the Oregon economy by increasing employment while increasing per capita income. Yet unions continue to urge their members to fight Right-to-Work.
Although the practice of forced union dues payments is inherently unfair, victims of the practice would hope to gain some benefit for their dues. Yet in a piece for The American Prospect titled, “Unions to Banks: Pay Up,” Sarah Jaffe explains that this is not always the case. The article highlights that Rebecca Sandoval’s situation as being a home-care worker who works “for the state of Oregon and are represented by Local 503 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU),” who, in spite of being forced to pay union dues, she “hasn’t had a raise for six years.”
Local 503 of the SEIU has spent membership fees toward lobbying through their political action group, Citizen Action for Public Education, and will surely spend money on a campaign combating the Public Employee Choice Act. But the union should focus on getting the workers its represents the benefits it promised rather than engaging in political activity.
If the union will not secure the pay raise that a public employee hopes for, he or she should have the opportunity to represent themselves in contract negotiations or at the very least, be able to decide whether the union is worth funding. In other words, they should have a “right to work.”
Initiative advocates have a little over one year to compile “87,213 valid signatures from registered voters in order to qualify for the  ballot” reports NWLaborPress.org. Time will tell if right-to-work will be successful in the Great Northwest, but I can think of two reasons Oregonians might want to give it a whirl:
More money. More freedom.