Sanders vows to ban ‘right-to-work’ laws in all 50 states

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders told a gathering of union machinists on Monday that he would ban right-to-work laws, including ones on the books in Indiana and Michigan.

“We will end once and for all the disastrous right-to-work laws in 28 states,” Sanders declared, adding that his proposal would prevent companies from “ruthlessly exploiting their employees by misclassifying them as independent contractors and [denying] them overtime by calling them supervisors.”

Under so-called “right-to-work” laws, states ban contracts between employers and unionized employees that require all members who benefit from a union contract to contribute to the costs of union representation. The term “right-to-work” itself is a misnomer, as it does not confer a guarantee of employment to people seeking work.

Right-to-work laws have come under attack both from the left and the right. Democrats often deride these laws as “right-to-work-for-less” while libertarians have argued that right-to-work laws violate the basic concept of freedom of contract and association.

Supporters of right-to-work laws say that collective bargaining agreements that require non-union employees to pay fees for collective bargaining expenses as a condition of employment are inherently unfair. Others have argued that unions can misrepresent non-union employees who pay mandatory fees.

Critics contend that right-to-work laws are a union-busting technique meant to weaken workers’ ability to negotiate higher wages and compensation packages, as well as improved workplace environments. They say that collecting dues from all employees who benefit from a union contract is only fair and that allowing non-union employees to benefit from collective bargaining without paying for it creates a free-rider problem.

In a 5-4 ruling split along ideological lines, the Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that public-sector unions cannot compel nonmembers to pay dues. The case, Janus v. AFSCME, was brought by an Illinois state government employee who claimed that mandatory union fees violated his rights to free speech. The ruling, which poses a challenge for Sanders and opponents of right-to-work laws, leaves private-sector mandatory fees in place.

Sanders is also pressing for a $15 national minimum wage, which was a signature issue during his 2016 campaign. Currently, Indiana’s minimum wage stands at the same rate as the national minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour. It has remained unchanged for nearly a decade, despite steady economic growth.

A number of cities and states have passed $15 minimum wage bills in recent years – including neighboring Illinois, which successfully passed into law a $15 minimum wage bill earlier this year. Illinois’ plan calls for a gradual phase-in to $15 by 2025.

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