If initiative backers have their way, Colorado will be voting on a controversial “right to work” ballot measure in 2008. Their aim is to ban union agreements that require membership fees from employees, whether they choose to join a labor union or not.
Currently, “right to work” is right at home in the state’s two largest newspapers where scribes for Denver’s two major news dailies are working under a “right to work” situation — employees can receive negotiated benefits such as health insurance and annual pay increases without paying union dues.
David Harsanyi, a Post columnist and outspoken supporter of “right to work,” is covered under the Denver Newspaper Guild contract, where employees of the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News can decide to voluntarily support the guild with membership fees .
“Obviously, employees should always have the freedom to collectively bargain,” says Harsanyi, who did not wish to comment publicly on the guild’s agreement. “But a worker who would rather not be part of that collective–because they disagree with the union’s position, or don’t view unions as “protection,” or have conflicting political views–should have the freedom to bargain individually.”
According to Tracy Simmons, an administrative officer with the guild, the union represents newsroom journalists not identifying as management, with the exclusion of some columnists.
“The rest of the people who are covered by the contract are in what’s called an open shop,” says Simmons. “Under the laws of this country they get the benefits of the contract. They do not pay any sort of dues or fees. Any membership is voluntary.”
The guild’s contracts with the Post and the Rocky will be up for renewal in March of next year. Currently, they include stipulations on issues including wages, working hours, health care and vacations.
When was asked if he would support labor agreements similar to the one in his own workplace, without mandatory fees, Harsanyi replied “‘I’d have to see more on the guild system, but if it coerces membership, no, I wouldn’t like it.”
While employees can opt out of paying the guild, Simmons says membership is necessary to union existence.
“There are some people who are members. But without those members there would be no union,” she says. “When everybody takes the free lunch there’s no union.”