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Right To Work Laws Bad For Everybody, Including the Boss

Berry Craig: A big reason the South's white political and business elite hated and feared unions was that in a union everybody is equal. Thus, they played the race card to divide white and African American workers and keep unions at bay.
Bill Londrigan (Photo: Berry Craig)

Bill Londrigan (Photo: Berry Craig)

The Right To Work For Less

What is right is almost always practical too. So it is with union opposition to so-called right to work laws, which some Republican lawmakers and governors apparently plan to push hard in several state legislatures next year.

Bill Londrigan (Photo: Berry Craig)

Supporters of right to work laws make two basic arguments:

• They bring "democracy" to the workplace by giving workers a choice of whether or not to join a union.

• They create "good paying jobs" in communities.

Both arguments are false. Right to work laws are not democratic. They don't boost economies either. Unions are democratic and economy boosters.

Unions are not forced on workers. Workers vote unions in and can vote unions out. (Despite the claims of right to work supporters and other union opponents, majority rule would continue under the proposed Employee Free Choice Act. The measure, the AFL-CIO's Internet website points out, would
"allow workers to form unions and bargain once a majority signs authorization cards....The Employee Free Choice Act would restore workers' freedom to form unions and bargain by enabling workers to
form unions without the fear, delay and coercion inherent in our current system. Majority sign-up is a long-established way to form a union, dating back to passage of the National Labor Relations Act.")

Right to work laws undermine unions by prohibiting what are called union security agreements between the union and the employer. Under a union security agreement, all non-management workers belong to the union. Or they pay the union a service fee or an amount equivalent to union dues.

The union supports the workers. The workers support the union.

Thus, right to work laws encourage freeloading. Under a right to work law, workers at a jobsite with a union contract can enjoy union-negotiated and union-won wages and benefits without joining the union or paying a service fee or dues. At the same time, unions also must represent these non-union employees when they have trouble with the boss.

Right to work supporters want workers to ask themselves, "Why should I join the union when I can get union wages, benefits and representation for free?" Hence, right to work laws encourage union members to quit the union and keep non-union workers from signing up with a union.

Obviously, the smaller a union, the less bargaining power the union can muster. Thus, the real purpose of right to work laws isn't "workplace democracy." It is to weaken large unions and destroy small unions.

Freeloading isn't democratic either. Freeloading is based on selfishness and greed, like the right to work concept itself.

Indeed, right to work laws aren't designed to produce good paying jobs. They are geared to drive down worker wages and decrease benefits and put more money in the boss's wallet.

Paychecks in right to work states are a lot skimpier than in non-right to work states. Everywhere, union wages are higher than non-union wages.

"In 2009, average pay in so-called 'right to work' states was 11.1 percent lower than in states where workers have the freedom to form strong unions," the AFL-CIO's website also says, citing numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Absent unions, wages, of course, go down. That's why unions call right to work the "right-to-work-for-less."

If right to work laws were "democratic" and good for workers, why is it that business and industry groups - not workers -- push them? Employer organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are big backers of right to work (and opponents of the EFCA.)

Right to work laws are legal under the Taft-Hartley Act, which an anti-union, Republican-majority Congress passed over President Harry Truman's veto in 1947. The measure was aimed at rolling back gains organized labor made under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat like Truman.

The bill's sponsors were Sen. Robert Taft, R-Ohio, and Rep. Fred Hartley, R-N.J. Both were ultra-conservatives who hated unions.

Joining right-wing Northern Republicans in passing Taft-Hartley were a number of conservative white Southern Democrats. They were as anti-labor as they were pro-segregation.

Not coincidentally, every former Confederate state is a right to work state. "The labor-hater and the labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-Negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth," Dr. Martin Luther King observed.

The white supremacists who ruled Dixie in King's day used the same strategy to preserve their Jim Crow race discrimination and segregation laws that they employed to thwart unionization, according to Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO. "Divide and conquer," he said.

A big reason the South's white political and business elite hated and feared unions was that in a union everybody is equal. Thus, they played the race card to divide white and African American workers and keep unions at bay.

Likewise, Londrigan said, employers nationwide keep pushing right to work laws because they turn workers against each other. "Knowing that a fundamental principle of trade unionism is 'United We Stand, Divided We Fall' -- Kentucky's state motto -- right-to-work-for-less represents a
devious and deceitful method for creating divisions to erode essential union solidarity," he said.

"Divisions occur both at the worksite in right-to-work-for-less states among workers that pay union dues and become members and those that do not and still get the same benefits....Divisions created by right-to-work-for-less among workers at individual worksites coupled with divisions created by the right-to-work-for-less status of states are primary objectives of right-to-work-for-less proponents because they understand that undermining union solidarity at the micro and macro levels erodes the fundamental principle of union solidarity necessary for the success of the American labor movement."

In the end, the greed of the right to workers will cost them, too. Here's why.

The more money people earn, the more money they have to spend - and will spend. The Kentucky State AFL-CIO put that truism on a novelty license plate a few years back. "Union Wages Buy More" it said.

Despite our current economic woes, America has the largest consumer economy in the world. But there aren't enough rich people - not by a long shot - to buy the bulk of consumer goods American business and industry produces. By far, most purchasers of consumer goods are workers.

What happens when working people can't afford to buy consumer goods? Read some history.

Employers engaged in union-busting and a race to the bottom on worker wages in the 1920s. The result was the Great Depression the 1930s, America's worst economic crisis.

Berry Craig

A major cause of the Depression was the weak purchasing power of American workers. Many historians and economists believe that America probably wouldn't have suffered the Depression had business and industry owners paid their workers more money. Then and now, more money in worker wallets translates into more money in store cash registers.

Thus, greed isn't just immoral, it's impractical. When workers don't make enough money to buy cars and other consumer goods, everybody gets hurt sooner or later, including pro-right to work bosses.

Berry Craig