Labor seeks recruits in right-to-work states. Drive is bolstered by US study showing union workers are better paid

Organized labor is beginning to aim recruiting efforts at states with ``right to work'' laws, under which workers cannot be forced to join a union -- and many have not. The union drive -- which focuses on the Southern crescent of states from Virginia to Texas, the North-Central states, and the Southwest -- is bolstered by a new government report showing that nonunion workers are paid substantially less than those who are under union contracts.

A union contract was worth more than $100 a week extra to the average worker in 1984, union recruiters note. Full-time wage and salary workers under labor contracts ``were paid an average of one-third more than their nonunion counterparts,'' according to the AFL-CIO.

Unions have had only limited success in recruiting workers in nonunion areas since the 1940s, when the right-to-work movement began its successful legislative campaign to prohibit union-shop contracts.

Under these contracts, workers must join the union if the majority votes for for one.

Failure to join may cost a worker his or her job, although some contracts provide the alternative of paying an ``agency fee'' equal to union dues.

Since 1944, National Right-To-Work Committee Campaigns, supported by conservative political and business organizations, have obtained laws barring union shops to 20 states.

Idaho could become the 21st. Idaho's House passed a right-to-work law by a 62-to-20 vote, and the state Senate approved the measure 28 to 14.

But Democratic Gov. John Evans vetoed a similar bill back in 1983, and he has pledged to do so again.

Unions see a ``growing assault'' against the labor movement, particularly in right-to-work states. Laws barring union shops are ``a smokescreen for union-busting,'' they say.

Supporters say the laws don't bar workers from joining a union, but protect them from being forced to join one or lose job rights when a majority chooses union representation.

They contend that a pro-union vote by 51 percent of those in an election should not be allowed to take away the ``freedom to work'' of the 49 percent who opposed representation.

Many labor experts question whether right-to-work laws are the real cause of labor's difficulties in signing up new members.

Prof. Samuel Estreicher of New York University says labor's problem is its faded image. Others agree. A management lawyer, Charles Bakaly Jr., in Los Angeles, said recently: ``Labor's problem is that most employees don't want to be represented by unions.''

The AFL-CIO's heavy and costly concentration on politics, supporting Walter Mondale for the presidency, further weakened labor's appeal to nonunion workers. Many question the role of unions today.

Labor's new campaign stresses the financial benefits of union membership.

Using figures from a US Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, unions are telling workers that per-capita income in right-to-work states averaged ``a modest $10,708'' in 1984, while in states ``where free collective bargaining is encouraged, the figure was $12,186 -- an additional $1,478.''

Labor says that the difference stems from the increased union power in industries in which all workers are union members.

But those supporting right-to-work legislation note that there are more low-pay industries in many of the states that bar union-shop contracts.

Chart: States with right-to-work laws. Source: International Association of Machinists

Wages compared with

national average

per-capita income

when law was passed Alabama -$658 Arizona -$109 Arkansas -$541 Florida -$232 Georgia -$442 Iowa plus $213 Kansas -$6 Louisiana -$1,012 Mississippi -$866 Nebraska plus $128 Nevada plus $531 North Carolina -$427 North Dakota plus $61 South Carolina -$637 South Dakota plus $100 Tennessee -$465 Texas -$244 Utah -$245 Virginia -$293 Wyoming plus $9

Wages compared with

national average

per-capita income

in 1983 Alabama -$2,443 Arizona -$1,029 Arkansas -$2,718 Florida -$92 Georgia -$1,306 Iowa -$980 Kansas plus $562 Louisiana -$1,415 Mississippi -$3,587 Nebraska -$473 Nevada plus $766 North Carolina -$1,898 North Dakota -$19 South Carolina -$2,498 South Dakota -$1,838 Tennessee -$2,136 Texas same Utah -$2,692 Virginia plus $431 Wyoming plus $226

Net loss

or gain Alabama -$1,785 Arizona -$920 Arkansas -$2,177 Florida plus $140 Georgia -$864 Iowa -$1,193 Kansas plus $568 Louisiana -$403 Mississippi -$2,721 Nebraska -$601 Nevada plus $235 North Carolina -$1,471 North Dakota -$80 South Carolina -$1,861 South Dakota -$1,938 Tennessee -$1,671 Texas plus $224 Utah -$2,447 Virginia plus $724 Wyoming plus $217

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