North Carolina's right-to-work law
Finlator discusses North Carolina's so-called right-to-work law in this excerpt. Learning about this law, which makes unionizing very difficult, animated his labor activism and opened his eyes to how anti-union forces were preventing workers from organizing. Finlator reveals some of the tactics companies use to prevent their workers from joining unions and bemoans the fact that working people in the state have so little support.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with William W. Finlator, April 19, 1985. Interview C-0007. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
- JAY JENKINS:
Civil rights advocates in North Carolina are relatively few and far
between. Tell us about some of your colleagues in this cause in North
- WILLIAM W. FINLATOR:
Well, it would be difficult to name one without naming a lot of others,
Jay. I hesitate to do this, but let me tell you an incident. When I
first came to Raleigh I picked up an article, and I don't
know where I saw it, but it was an article by a young professor of law
at the University of North Carolina, named Daniel Pollitt. It was an
article about what the labor unions call "14b." And
that's known as the right-to-work law. It was an article
dealing with the injustice of these laws which were being adopted by
legislatures across the country, particularly in the
South. A law which really operated to the effect of making it almost
impossible to organize labor unions. It was a misnomer: it was called
the right-to-work but actually it was in one sense the very opposite of
that. And I was already aware of this kind of activity and this law.
When I read this article, I said, that law professor has written with
such clarity and persuasion and force that I'd like to know
him. And I wrote him a letter to congratulate him and thank him for it.
And then one thing led to another and he and I became friends. I found
out he was one of the most enlightened supporters of the rights of
laboring people. Through him and through the years with him (he teaches
Constitutional law and the Bill of Rights) my vision was enlarged and my
perceptions deepened about civil liberties. He and I have oftentimes
come over to testify to committees in the General Assembly.
And then I began to learn how labor is treated in North Carolina. And one
day I was down in—I won't name the town but it
was—an industrial community in North Carolina and the issue
of unionization was at stake. They were about to vote. And I saw, Jay,
intimidation at its worst. If any of these people working for this
industry were seen to be in any kind of association with the labor union
organizer, or if they were saying anything in favor of unionization,
their jobs were at stake. They were fired. And not
only were they fired, but if their wives and children and relatives were
in the same industry, their jobs were at stake. And then when this
person who'd been fired went out to get credit, the banks
refused to extend the credit. If he went to the grocery store and asked
them for a charge, the grocery store would deny him. All of the town
would penalize him. And then if he went to an adjoining town, or a
nearby town, or a town far away he was on a blacklist and they
wouldn't hire him because of this. And I saw that he had no
right of free speech, free assembly, free press, due process, equality
under the law, and I said, "My God. There's no hope
for these people unless they have something to protect them. And if the
labor union is not able to deliver on better wages or working
conditions, just the fact that it would give these people a sense of
belonging to something, a solidarity, a base of support to make them
become self-respecting American citizens." And I said,
"All of their civil liberties have been denied." How
could you not defend those people?
This association with poverty was another matter for the University.
Frank Graham, Paul Green, Daniel Pollitt. None of them Baptists, but
they were all dear friends, very enriching in my life. And so I saw that
unions … I remember the story about this guy going
to court and hearing his case read out.
"The next case is the State of North Carolina against Paul
Jones." And when Paul Jones heard that read out he said,
"My God, what a majority!"
But when you look at a union in North Carolina, what have you got against
it? You've got the churches against it. I've been
to AFL-CIO meetings in North Carolina and people told me, "Oh,
I wish our pastor would identify with us. He always identifies with his
managers." The chamber of commerce, many of the newspapers,
merchants associations. Everything in North Carolina that has power is
against the working man when he tries to have a little power of his own
with his union. And not to be an advocate of this
person is to forfeit, in many ways, your opportunity as a minister to