Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Right To Work For Less

By: Dale Bowling

Michigan just became the 24th state to enact a "Right To Work" Law. In the state legislature there, Republicans just lost seats and when the new State Government meets Republicans would lack the votes to enact Right to Work, so they're ramming it through at the 11th hour.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Right To Work Laws, they allow workers at union companies to opt out of paying dues to the union that go to pay for collective bargaining. So if you don't like your union or are really cheap or whatever, you can just not pay your dues.

Advocates of Right To Work say this gives workers more rights to make decisions and creates a work-friendly business environment. They say this creates more companies wanting to locate in those states and therefore brings more jobs to the state.

The fact of the matter is that meticulous study has shown that Right To Work states do not see improved job opportunities or employment after passing Right to Work legislation.

What they do see is the power of organized labor decrease, which is what Republicans wanted all along.

Of the 10 states with the highest poverty rates, 8 of them are Right To Work States.

The President has called this the "Right To Work For Less".

It's not a coincidence that the time in American history when income inequality was the lowest and economic growth reached record highs was also the time when Union membership was at its height.

When workers could bargain with management on more or less equal footing, then workers could see income gains from higher productivity.

To put it simply when workers had a stake in how their company did and the company had a stake in its workers, everyone treated each other fairly and everyone did well.

But if workers can opt out of paying union dues then the union sees its budget fall, which makes protecting its members interests that much harder (a lot of union dues go to paying labor attorneys which negotiate contracts). When members see that their interests aren't being defended, they're more likely to stop paying their dues which furthers the union's downward spiral.

The ultimate result is that the income of both union and non-union employees stagnate even as corporate profits rise ever higher. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich remarked recently that, "The ratio of corporate profits to wages is now higher than at any time since just before the Great Depression."

The reason both union and non-union suffer is because in the Golden Age of American Labor one of the things that drove non-union shops to deal fairly with its employees was the fear they might unionize.

The fewer rights that American Labor has and the less it is able to defend them leads to what we see today- enormous abuse in the system.

We have Walmart which has been accused of sustained discrimination, worker intimidation, manipulating work schedule to circumvent labor protections, etc.

We see Hostess ask their workers to take a pay cut for the companies sake, give executives a hefty raise with it, further mismanage the company, raid their workers' pensions to pay operating costs and then ask the workers to take a second pay cut and when they refuse, blame the company's demise on the union.

We see Papa John and the rest complaining that their operating costs from giving their employees insurance (which translates to like a nickel a meal) is going to drive the company under.

And these are just the prominent examples that have been in the news this week.

Union busting is just another example of Republicans taking something that works pretty well overall, breaking it, and then claiming it doesn't work and should be replaced or further weakened.

I have a prediction. If someday Republicans gain control of the Illinois legislature, we'll start to hear how Right To Work laws would promote employment and economic growth in the Land of Lincoln.

When that day comes, all we'll have to do is look across the Lake to see if there is an economic miracle in Michigan since the law was passed. Maybe the 24th time is a charm?

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