What is Right to Work?
By Matt Voss
Don’t we already have the right to work? This is America, where we pretty much have the right to say and do most of whatever we want. This is the great nation where I can carry a loaded assault rifle to pick up a bacon-wrapped pizza. We invented a burger where, instead of a bun, there are just chicken patties, and we’re free to eat this abomination, despite knowing what it does to our bodies and what it says about us as a species.
When we sing about America being the land of the free and the home of the brave, are we referring to the American people or to the companies that thrive here? When our founding fathers were drafting the Declaration of Independence, they declared with fervor that America would uphold the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Surely, they weren’t seeking to go to war over the rights of a corporation, but for those of the people. The choices of taking this job or that, working for thus and such company, and negotiating a mutually acceptable compensation of cheddar fall under the rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but there is a dastardly piece of legislation afoot that directly contradicts those rights.
Who’s behind Right to Work?
The so-called “Right-To-Work” initiative is designed to help companies make higher profits by killing labor unions’ right to collectively bargain for fair pay and benefits. With the unions out of the way, these big businesses would be able to cut their costs on important things like safety regulations, employee benefits, and wages paid to the workers. Who could do such an awful thing? Blame ALEC.
Who is this ALEC jerk? ALEC isn’t a jerk or even a person; ALEC is an acronym for the “American Legislative Exchange Council” and it also happens to be a collective of jerks. ALEC isn’t affiliated with any branch of government, but is a members-only group of wealthy business owners and lobbyists that like to get together to brainstorm ways to use their money and power to manipulate the government.
ALEC’s aim is to find ways to weaken government regulations and even draft new bills that, if they were to become law, would help their businesses make more money.
Can we blame them for wanting to make more money? No, of course not, but we can call them jerks for attempting to do so at the expense of workers’ safety, pay, and benefits, can’t we?
ALEC can’t technically make laws, but some people will adopt some sick ideals for money. With the financial backing of evil empires like Wal-Mart, ExxonMobile, and the Koch brothers, and of industries like Big Pharma and Big Tobacco, ALEC has the money to get their scribblings into the hands of the politicians that actually do make laws.
Almost unbelievably, many of the documents submitted by politicians to become law are often word-for-word the documents submitted by ALEC. For a longer list of ALEC corporations and donors to abhor, click here.
Is abhor too strong a word? Let’s talk about a smattering of ALEC’s other atrocities:
- Voter suppression of minorities
- Expanding the list of offenses for which prisoners would need to hire for-profit bail bond companies (ALEC’s Vice Chair, William Carmichael, is with the American Bail Coalition-feel free to write him a letter.)
- Increasing mandatory prison terms for drug offenses
- Blaming consumers, rather than the banks, for the mortgage crisis and creating the crime of “mortgage fraud”
- Advocating guns on school campuses and gun rights for youngsters
- Loosening restrictions on waiting periods and background checks for firearm purchases
One way ALEC has devised to grow a little fatter is to create laws that cripple the labor unions that fight for the fair treatment and compensation of working Americans. Oh, look: a segue back to Right to Work..
Right to Work and Labor Unions
Even the name is enough to make the blood boil. “Right-To-Work” implies that to oppose the legislature would be to oppose workers’ rights, when, in fact, RTW is designed to rob workers of the freedom to bargain as a collective work force for the things they need in order to adequately provide for their families.
Labor unions are an integral part of maintaining safety in some of the most dangerous industries in the country. Labor unions and the companies they represent spend millions of dollars every year to ensure the safety of their workers through classroom training programs and offering incentives for completing certification programs.
In my days as a carpenter, the company that I worked for, which was proudly union, sponsored a union-mandated, classroom-style, forklift training session with a video and a written test. Naturally, everybody whined that it was boring and made fun of me for actually paying attention, but the experience honestly helped me recognize a handful of things that I had been doing incorrectly, which could very well have prevented an injury or two.
Why are Unions and Collective Bargaining important?
Let’s talk about workplace safety. The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has published that RTW states in which labor unions are no longer allowed to have the backs of the working class have shown a staggering 54% average increase in work-related fatalities, undoubtedly due to the millions of dollars previously spent on accident prevention now being used to line the pockets of the wealthy business owners.
What are the benefits of being in a Union?
Let’s talk about higher pay, health insurance, and pension plans.
Labor unions fight for their workers while they are on the job, but also understand that providing for a family doesn’t end at a paycheck. Families in Right to Work states make an average of almost $6,000 LESS per year than their neighboring states where labor unions are allowed to do their job.
New to the work-a-day world? A bit of advice: When adulting, it is wise to consider the following three steps when weighing a job offer:
- Negotiate a fair starting pay and raise schedule
- Consider employee benefits like affordable health coverage
- Consider what the company offers for a retirement plan
These things should weigh heavily into the decision to accept any job, and all three are things that could be maximized by unionizing and leveraging the work force through a collective bargaining agreement. #thankaunion
In my pre-union days of yesteryear, I obtained three healthcare quotes from three well-known providers. For me to provide healthcare coverage for my two young children and me, it would have cost $400-$600 every month!
It pains me to think about where I might be today had I not had the opportunity to join a union company that secured health care for all three of us for just $23 each month. ALEC recognizes that it’s the company that pays the rest of the bill, and they’re not happy about it.
After working a handful of years, (usually five,) union employees also become eligible for a pension plan designed to keep money coming in after retirement. The contributions to the pension come from the company, not the worker, and in addition to the weekly paychecks.
ALEC must lose sleep over the idea of people retiring before they die; wouldn’t it be nice if they would just continue to earn until they reach those pearly gates?
Fringe with Benefits
Unions negotiating for healthcare coverage and pensions is important, but some other noteworthy benefits that the workers in my particular union were privy to included vision and dental health coverage, a discounted rate at Gold’s Gym for preventative maintenance, and free chiropractic care.
What about Union Dues?
For years, I gladly paid my monthly $23 in union dues. For the slew of benefits it got me, I couldn’t have asked for a better deal. That $23 afforded me a substantially higher rate of pay, helped me save for retirement, and allowed me to save $400-$600 on healthcare every month. In addition to that, I was pretty safe at work; it’s hard to put a price tag on workplace safety.
The Right-To-Work initiative seeks to keep families from enjoying these benefits by crippling the unions’ ability to collectively bargain for decent wages and benefits to the workers in favor of further empowering and enriching the stockholders.
Let’s talk about a Union Success Story
In January 2015, USA Today published a triumphant article about Silicon Valley shuttle bus drivers recently having unionized.
The workers had been dealing with a lack of health coverage and low pay that left their families in poverty. The working conditions left workers working split shifts with long, unpaid breaks in between. Many workers were spending afternoons sleeping in their cars instead of spending the gas money to go back home between shifts.
Exercising the rights of a non-RTW state, the drivers sought the backing of the Teamsters, whose collective bargaining agreement provided the drivers with an average wage increase of $6 an hour, a solution to the split-shift problem, and a solid pension program.
Right to Work is Wrong for the Workers
Supporters of RTW argue that the laws make the state more attractive for business owners looking to relocate, but the fact is that even before the recent adoption of RTW, Missouri had been in the top ten best states to own a business for the better part of a decade.
I’m not in a union; why should I care?
Right-To-Work doesn’t threaten just union workers; union and non-union jobs alike pay an average of 12.2% less annually under RTW. In any economy, industry prices will be competitive, but without unions fighting for higher wages, companies can lower their prices in order to remain competitive and pay their employees less to make up the difference. This has the effect of drastically lowering what is called the Prevailing Wage of a state, which, in turn, hurts the state’s economy as a whole.
Imagine ALEC taking almost $6,000 from every worker every year. That makes for a lot less money going back into the economy, not to mention less income tax revenue for the state to pay teachers, police, fire rescue, build and fix roads, utilities, and the list goes on and on. ALEC brings to mind the image of Scrooge McDuck in his swimming pool filled with gold coins.
Lower income also makes for poorer families that may subsequently depend on the state government to help make ends meet. The strong correlation between poverty and crime rate aside, those families will likely be without healthcare unless it’s provided by the state, certainly be without any retirement savings, causing further future economic issues, and their future generations will be far less likely to seek a college education.
Under RTW, Americans are twice as likely to lose their lives on the job due to businesses cutting costs on workplace safety, less likely to be able to provide health coverage or a retirement income, and less likely to be able to sustain themselves financially.
The so-called Right-To-Work initiative may be good for business owners, but at what cost? It has proven to be a disaster for state-level economies and for American families. Right-To-Work gives us the right to work and work for less and less, but that doesn’t sound like freedom to me.
What do you think?
Need a little more info on how Right to Work works? Here’s Robert Reich to cartoon it out for you: