Ted Cruz on Thursday said on a Wisconsin radio show that he supports national “right to work” legislation, just days after the Supreme Court in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association essentially upheld the requirement that non-members pay dues to public unions (because it was a 4-4 tie).
The two issues go hand in hand. Right to work laws (25 – mostly Red – states have them on the books now, including Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin) are designed to eviscerate unions, and if the Supreme Court had struck down the non-member dues requirement on Thursday in Friedrichs, it would have had the same effect.
Cruz wants to get rid of unions for the same reason he wants to never grant citizenship to illegal immigrants – they lean democratic. But it’s more than that. Unions are engines of regulation (historically they have pushed hard for workplace health & safety protections), and they are considered to drive up costs for business, both of which are anathema to conservatives.
The constitutional basis for Cruz’s position can be found in the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of association, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of life, liberty and property – and the idea that the right to “sell” your labor by making a contract for it is a property right. The Supreme Court visited this idea frequently in the 1930s and 1940s and recognized it in the famous Lochner v. New York decision (where the Court decided that a law limiting the number of hours a baker could work – yes, it was about bakers’ hours – violated the rights of the bakers to enter into a contract, which presumably could have had them working 23 hours a day if they wanted to). After the Great Depression, the Court increasingly upheld health and safety laws – which conservatives still say infringe on the “right” to work.
There is mixed data on whether right to work states have better wages, insurance coverage, and job growth. Despite the fact union membership is in decline (mostly due to corporate power and right to work laws), most Americans have a favorable opinion of Unions (51% in 2013 according to Pew), on the basis that they protect working people. Also according to Pew, 64% of Americans agreed that unions were necessary to protect working people (though 57% also agreed that unions had “too much power”).