What’s Disgusting? Union Busting!
There’s a lesson to be learned from Indiana, where politicians rammed through so-called right-to-work legislation despite overwhelming public opposition: Right-to-work laws have nothing to with the priorities that matter to the middle-class (“Right-to-work issue could become battle in Michigan,” LSJ, Feb. 4). Nor are these bills intended to put people back to work or safeguard their rights on the job.
On the contrary, numerous studies indicate that right to work comes at steep price to local economies: Six of the eight states with the lowest wages in the country are right-to-work states, and eight of the 12 states with the highest unemployment rates have a right-to-work law on the books.
The reality is that these laws are a partisan ploy designed to weaken workers’ unions, one of the few remaining checks on runaway corporate influence in our upside down economy. Right to work is wrong for Michigan’s economy, wrong for Michigan workers, and absolutely the wrong priority for the state Legislature.
Kimberly Freeman Brown
Executive Director, American Rights at Work
By Leo W. Gerard
USW International President
Americans love an underdog. Maybe it’s an artifact of the American Revolution, when a rag-tag rabble of farmers and frontiersmen defeated the disciplined and well-provisioned military of the most powerful nation on earth.
Even though the United States has usurped most powerful status, Americans still ally with Davids in contests with Goliaths. They love to see a top dog taken down a notch. They rooted for the perennial loser Red Sox in the 2004 World Series and reveled in the win by America’s unseasoned ice hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
That’s why the sudden surge of right-to-work (for less) legislation is so confounding. Right-to-work (for less) laws are perks for the wealthy, for the top dogs. These laws facilitate destruction of unions. The concerted action of a labor union is a tool that workers use to win fair wages, benefits and conditions from the powerful, from the likes of massive multi-national corporations. At a time of dwindling union membership, at a time when labor union participation is so small as to be nearly negligible, state legislatures across the country are taking up right-to-work (for less) laws that will further decimate union ranks. They’re kicking the underdog when it’s down.
Despite the derisive “big union boss” label that right wingers throw at labor leaders, unions are not the big dogs. Union representation in the United States has declined steadily since the 1950s, following federal legislation in 1947 impeding unionization. Just after World War II, about 35 percent of workers belonged to unions. And those who didn’t benefitted from the higher wages and good benefits that union workers negotiated because non-union employers felt compelled to provide competitive compensation. Last year, the percentage of U.S. workers in unions fell to 11.9, the lowest in more than 70 years.
As unions atrophied and the recession raged, the median income of working Americans declined. Meanwhile, at the top, the big dogs who run corporations continued awarding themselves colossal compensation and bonus packages. Median compensation for executives quadrupled over the past four decades. Last year, most executives got big bumps, whether their companies did well or not. Now, income inequality is greater than at any time since the robber baron days of the 1920s.
Still, somehow, legislatures across the country are rooting for CEOs, the top dogs, and bashing unions. Lawmakers in Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona, Oklahoma, Idaho, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and South Dakota have attacked public sector unions. Politicians in South Carolina, Minnesota, New Hampshire, even Michigan and West Virginia are pushing right-to-work (for less) legislation.
Republican-controlled Indiana actually passed it this year. The law forbids companies and unions from negotiating terms that require every worker benefitting from the contract to pay his or her share of the cost of bargaining it. In other words, these laws allow workers to refuse to pay union dues and simply freeload on those who do.
Right-to-work (for less) is great for CEOs. It enables them to pocket more of the profits because such laws weaken unions, ultimately resulting in lower pay and benefits for workers, both those who are in unions and those who are not. Oklahoma’s experience illustrates the sad fact that right-to-work (for less) guarantees lower pay for workers, while not ensuring them more jobs.
Oklahoma adopted right-to-work (for less) a decade ago, the last state to favor the big dogs before Indiana. It joined other right-to-work (for less) states where wages are 3.2 percent lower; the likelihood of employers providing health coverage is 2.6 percent lower, and the rate of employer-sponsored pensions is 4.8 percent lower. These tragic statistics are detailed in the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report, “The Compensation Penalty of ‘Right-to-Work Laws.”
Oklahoma workers didn’t get additional jobs out of the deal either. That’s documented in a study titled, “Does Right-to-Work Create Jobs?” Its authors, a labor expert and an economist at EPI, determined the law had no effect on jobs.
But CEOs, the 1 percent, do benefit. A 2009 study by Hofstra University Business Research Institute Director Lonnie K. Stevans shows that right-to-work (for less) is exactly that for employees but the opposite for CEOs. Stevans writes:
“Wages and personal income are both lower in right-to-work states, yet proprietors’ income is higher.”
The “proprietors,” the top dogs, win. The workers, the underdogs, lose. And they’re defeated by a special advantage that lawmakers give to top dogs with right-to-work (for less) legislation.
It doesn’t make sense in a society enamored of underdogs. It doesn’t make sense to give additional perks to the already-advantaged. It doesn’t make sense to turn workers into beggars, but that’s what right-to-work (for less) laws do. They eviscerate unions, so that each worker is on his or her own to seek just compensation, benefits, job security and safe working conditions from massive multi-national corporations.
It is Oliver Twist, his gruel bowl upheld, begging of the workhouse overlord, “Please, sir, I want some more.” Oliver didn’t get it. And workers who are thwarted from collective action by this legislation won’t either.
To win fair wages, the underdogs must band together as a team.
Kicking Underdogs When They’re Down
We hear a lot of talk from politicians in Lansing about creating jobs and making education a top priority, but Michigan’s middle class families know talk is cheap.
Last year our elected officials cut more than $1 billion from our K-12 schools, community colleges and universities so they could provide a $1.7 billion tax cut for businesses. These cuts won’t reduce class size, they won’t address barriers to student success, and they won’t put people back to work.
Now a small group of anti-union politicians and corporate special interests like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are trying to make Michigan a so-called right-to-work state.
Let’s be clear. This is nothing more than a blatant power grab that will weaken the middle class and won’t create jobs.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”
A right-to-work law in Michigan would give even more profits to CEOs at the expense of our jobs, our retirement security and our kids’ future.
In states with right-to-work laws, employees earn an average of $1,500 less per year, have a lower standard of living and no job security. Currently, six of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates in the nation have right-to-work laws on the books.
Of course, we all know this isn’t really about rebuilding Michigan’s economy. If it were, middle class families in states that have passed right-to-work laws would be better off, but that’s simply not the case.
In fact, in right-to-work states like Mississippi, Texas and Idaho, workers’ pensions were gutted. Thousands of workers who had been contributing to their pensions for decades were left with broken promises and no retirement security.
The politicians and corporate special interests who are pushing this unfair legislation know that unions are a check on corporate greed, and they are working overtime to silence the collective voice of our teachers, nurses and firefighters.
Corporate CEOs spent more than $1 billion to elect politicians who are willing to do their bidding and give them free rein over our economy.
If these attacks succeed in weakening unions, what will be left to check corporate power and fight outsourcing? CEOs will be able to rob workers of their voice, to lower wages and to ship even more jobs to China.
Gov. Rick Snyder has said he doesn’t want Michigan to become a right-to-work state, and I couldn’t agree more.
This issue is far too divisive, and will tear Michigan apart at a time when we should be focused on creating jobs and investing in public education to give our kids a better future.
When it comes to rebuilding our economy, talk is cheap. And since right-to-work is all about shortchanging workers, it’s clear this flawed proposal is wrong for Michigan.
David Hecker is president of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan, a union that has 35,000 members in the state.
For the first time, supporters of right-to-work laws can claim victory in the industrialized Midwest. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels yesterday signed legislation making it illegal to require nonunion workers to pay union dues.
Right-to-work laws have taken on oversized symbolic importance, outweighing the actual cost to unions or the real benefits to employers. Worse, the combat discourages the two sides from working together to manage cyclical ups and downs or to improve productivity, which increases profits, lifts wages and ultimately results in economic expansion.
Unions loathe right-to-work laws because they can make organizing more difficult and, they insist, lead to lower wages and less generous benefits. Some governors, on the other hand, think a right-to-work law is the best proxy for how business- friendly their state is.
Twenty-three states, mostly in the South and Southwest, now have such laws. Lawmakers in Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, and other states may try to follow, largely out of fear of being left behind in the race to attract companies. Republican U.S. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina is pushing for a national right-to-work law.
A close examination shows that right-to-work laws are not as damaging to unions or as beneficial to state economies as the warring sides contend. Each wields powerful talking points, yet the supporting data is sparse.
On the union side, the big myth is that the laws bar unions from organizing. Not so. Instead, by enabling workers to opt out of union dues, they reduce the financial payoff to organizers. Over time, that may weaken a union’s ability to attract new members, put together political campaigns or pay union administrative expenses. Still, it wouldn’t prevent a union from forming in the first place.
On the right-to-work side, the big myth is that economic growth in states with the law is higher. Studies sponsored by the Mackinac Center, a think tank in Midland, Michigan, that favors right-to-work, conclude as much. But it’s not necessarily so. The Mackinac studies don’t disentangle the effect of right- to-work laws from other factors, such as a housing bust, rapid population growth (a feature of many Sunbelt states) or a robust energy sector.
Take Oklahoma, which became a right-to-work state in 2001. It has outperformed much of the country in recent years; its unemployment level, at 6.1 percent, bests the national rate of 8.5 percent. But joblessness in Colorado, Missouri and New Mexico — Oklahoma’s non-right-to-work neighbors — are also well below the national average.
Interestingly, some of the strongest arguments for and against right-to-work are moral — and they exist on both sides. The personal beliefs of anti-union workers are stepped on when monthly dues are deducted from their paychecks, even though they don’t belong to the union. In right-to-work states, the same workers wouldn’t have to pay dues but would benefit from the higher wages a union might negotiate on their behalf. The unions have a word for that: free-loading.
The answer isn’t right-to-work but better labor-management cooperation. Both sides might learn a lesson from Germany, where union members often sit on corporate boards and vote on management pay (helping to keep in check excessive, U.S.-style compensation). Germany’s unions also play prominent roles when the economic cycle turns down. One example is the “Kurzarbeit” plan, or short-work system, in which companies temporarily move employees into shorter workweeks during downturns. Companies pay only for actual hours worked, and the government provides as much as two-thirds of the remainder.
Many German companies also use work-time accounts, in which employees agree to shorter workweeks when demand is slow, then add hours in boom times — without adjusting wages.
Under the Kurzarbeit plan and work-time accounting, unions have gone along, knowing what’s good for the company is often good for them. At 6.7 percent, Germany’s jobless rate, a two- decade low, tells us that cooperation over conflict is worth considering.
In the 1950s, about one-third of American workers carried a union card. Today, barely 12 percent do. Union membership in the private sector is a mere 6.9 percent. The decades-long slide isn’t the result of right-to-work laws, but the loss of manufacturing jobs. In Indiana, union members made up 10.9 percent of the workforce in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, down from 15.4 percent in 2000.
It may not be culturally or politically possible for U.S. unions and executives to emulate the German model, but with manufacturing making a comeback, it’s a good time for both sides to find a better way to resolve their conflicts.
Great Article from The Nation.
It’s no coincidence that “Right To Work” (for less) states are among the shittiest states in the USA economically (and just in general).
“Twenty-two states—predominantly in the old Confederacy —already have “right to work” laws, mostly dating from the McCarthy era. “Right to work” (RTW) does not guarantee anyone a job. Rather, it makes it illegal for unions to require that each employee who benefits from the terms of a contract pay his or her share of the costs of administering it. By making it harder for workers’ organizations to sustain themselves financially, RTW aims to undermine unions’ bargaining strength and eventually render them extinct.” …
For the last two days, Democrats in the Indiana legislature have prevented the consideration of a “right to work” bill, which would make Indiana the first state in the U.S. industrial belt to allow non-union workers to free-ride on union contracts, which obviously undermines the ability of the union to do its job. Today, the National Football League Players Association called on the Indiana GOP to drop its bill in advance of the 2012 Super Bowl, which is being played in Indianapolis, saying that the NFL’s biggest game “should be about celebrating the best of what Indianapolis has to offer, not about legislation that hurts the people of Indiana“:
To win, we have to work together and look out for one another. Today, even as the city of Indianapolis is exemplifying that teamwork in preparing to host the Super Bowl, politicians are looking to destroy it trying to ram through so-called “right-to-work” legislation.
“Right-to-work” is a political ploy designed to destroy basic workers’ rights. It’s not about jobs or rights, and it’s the wrong priority for Indiana. […]
As Indianapolis proudly prepares to host the Super Bowl it should be a time to shine in the national spotlight and highlight the hard working families that make Indiana run instead of launching political attacks on their basic rights. It is important to keep in mind the plight of the average Indiana worker and not let them get lost in the ceremony and spectacle of such a special event. This Super Bowl should be about celebrating the best of what Indianapolis has to offer, not about legislation that hurts the people of Indiana.
– reduce wages by $1,500 a year, for both union and nonunion workers, after accounting for different costs of living in the states;
– lower the likelihood that employees get healthcare or pensions through their jobs—again, for both union and nonunion employees;
– have no impact whatsoever on job growth
Indiana Republicans have, so far, not backed down in their desire to move the bill through the legislature. But as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow put it, the GOP may want to rethink that strategy considering that “”America’s most celebrated union members (the NFL players) and a whole lot of national media are coming to town.”
An unexpected alliance is blooming seven weeks into a hard winter strike by 50 Millworkers at the Indiana Limestone Company: The participants of Occupy Bloomington in that nearby college town are rallying to their cause.
The millworkers, members of Local 8093 of the Carpenters Industrial Council in Oolitic, Indiana, rejected a concessionary contract and by unanimous vote went on strike November 15.
Union negotiators had been expecting the company, once family-owned but now part of a private equity firm, to move on some of its demands for work rule concessions. The company had proposed ending weekly safety meetings in a job where Millworkers operate heavy machinery, precision cutting tools, and move limestone pieces that weigh in excess of 6 tons. The company had also demanded an end to just cause standards for discipline and radical changes in attendance policies.
Instead the company upped the ante: Not only did the concessions remain, but management now wanted to cancel basic seniority rights. Local 8093 members decided to make a stand and hit the picket line, supported by 18 members of the Journeymen Stonecutters and Machinists who perform the skilled task of fabricating the end product at the mill. The Stonecutters negotiate separately but felt their bargaining position was bound up in solidarity with the Millwrights.
The strike has dragged on into January as workers weathered the holiday season without paychecks. The trappings of the strike are familiar, with picket lines thrown up at the two main plant entrances, the scene of some physical confrontations and loud voices.
Local media played down the strike or presented the strikers as overpaid ingrates who were disrupting business and backing up traffic with their picket line.
Nearby unions gave what support they could in an area where union density has been particularly hard hit by the departure of jobs from companies like RCA/Thompson, Otis Elevator, and General Electric.