Washington Looks To Be The 26th Right-To-Work State

Hoping to draw on the same sort of success that recently made Wisconsin the 25th state in the country to pass “right-to-work” legislation, an employee rights group in Washington State last week launched a campaign to pass a similar law by ballot initiative this fall.

According to a press release at the Employee Rights PAC website, Initiative 1395 “allows all employees in the State of Washington to decide what groups they belong to in their chosen profession. Neither government, nor employers would be allowed to dictate membership.”

Right-to-work laws make payment of union dues or fees voluntary. In states where such dues are compulsory, workers who fail to begin paying them after a 30-day probationary period are often subject to termination.

I-1395 comes at a time when union membership nationally has been waning in recent years, and Washington, despite traditionally having membership rates well above the national average, has followed suit. In 1993, union membership in the state averaged 23.8 percent of total workers, but according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, membership totaled 16.8 percent in 2014, a nearly thirty percent drop.

In addition to the reduction in union membership, public sentiment regarding right-to-work laws is at a historical high–a fact that bodes well for such an initiative that targets the 4th most unionized state in the country. According to a Gallup poll published in August of last year, 71 percent of Americans said they would “vote for” a right-to-work law if given the opportunity, a nine percent jump from 1957.

The same poll, when considering political party opinion, shows strong bi-partisan support. Sixty-five percent of Democrats–who have traditionally been the majority party in Washington–would vote for right-to-work laws, compared to 77% of independents, and 74% of Republicans. Submitting a ballot initiative directly to voters for approval, who are increasingly receptive to voluntary union participation, may prove a winning strategy.

Governor Scott Walker’s signature of right-to-work in Wisconsin–long considered to be a pro-union stalwart–may be a bellwether for similar efforts to succeed in other unionized states like Washington. If recent national trends in membership and public opinion hold up, a 26th right-to-work state may well be on the horizon.