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Oregon’s Surprising “Right-to-Work” Ballot Initiative Actually Has a Shot, with a Twist


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Prior to the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the subsequent pro-worker ruling in Friedrichs v. CTA, it was fairly easy to overlook the “Right-to-Work” ballot initiative heading for Oregon in November.  A SCOTUS ruling against CTA in Friedrichs would have created a de facto “Right-to-Work” law on the national level and rendered the Oregon initiative moot. Now, it’s the rotten opposite of a silver lining, staring the state in the face.

This weekend, the editorial board of the Oregonian released an op-ed describing the initiative and the Portland-area lawyer, Jill Gibson, who helped propose it. What is unique about the initiative is that it seeks not only to make fair share fees optional, but kneecap the argument that “Right-to-Work” creates a ‘free-rider’ problem. If you opted out of the union under the law, you will no longer be protected by collective bargaining agreements, they say:

The right to work fight is largely a debate about the lesser of two evils. One is mooching, and the other is the violation of employees’ First Amendment protections. In many states, including Oregon, public sector unions may collect money from non-members who hold jobs covered by collective bargaining — think public school teachers. Employees in such positions don’t have to belong to the union itself, but they must pay fees in lieu of dues. Such fees are appropriate, the thinking goes, because even nonmembers in covered positions benefit from the bargaining and representation of the union they are compelled to support. The alternative would be to allow free-ridership, in which non members enjoy the benefits of bargaining and representation without paying any of the costs.

“Right-to-Work” is never good, but the twist in this initiative may make it more palatable to working voters, meaning the bastion of liberalism that is Oregon could miraculously become a “Right-to-Work” state this year.  From The Oregonian:

“The possibility of allowing free-ridership can be a serious problem for anyone seeking reform via the ballot. It’s far easier, and perhaps more effective, for opponents to yell “moochers” repeatedly than it is to explain the First Amendment problems with forced union contributions. For that reason, Gibson’s initiative seeks to eliminate the possibility of free-ridership. Independent employees — those who wished neither to join a public sector union nor contribute to one — would be treated as if they did not belong to a bargaining unit, and their pay and benefits would not be determined by union contracts.

There is no doubting the divisiveness of the issue, so the assertions made by Gibson and the semi-partial Oregonian will be tested in November. As the Register-Guard concluded last week, “The question has split the Supreme Court right down the middle, so Oregonians will have to decide for themselves.”


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