- Views & Opinions
For more than a century, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate-right groups have been trying to eliminate labor unions. Corporate chieftains fear that by negotiating fair wages, safe workplace conditions and benefits for workers, unions reduce their profits. They fail to consider that unions might increase their profits by providing them with better-trained and more committed workers. Nor do the big wigs consider that unions ensure adequate compensation for the people who make them rich.
They do consider, however, that unions have a ripple effect throughout the labor market. By establishing fair conditions in unionized workplaces, unions force non-union companies to provide competitive wages and benefits in order to attract the best workers in their industries.
As unions have lost their power over the past few decades, wages and benefits have been on a race for the bottom. Forty years ago, when unions were strong, a worker could support a family of four on the minimum wage. Now minimum-wage workers require public assistance to avoid starvation. Most must work two or more jobs and have little chance of completing college.
Anti-union politicians, swimming in the generous donations of the uber rich, say that so-called “right-to-work” laws are only fair, because they prevent unions from collecting dues from all the workers who benefit from union contracts (in truth, there are other ways for many workers to opt out of paying union dues). But they know that “right-to-work” will ultimately bust unions. Tellingly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate groups charge their members dues. Without those dues, they’d soon be out of business themselves.
Tea party Republicans, who control state government, were preparing to ram “right-to-work” legislation through the Wisconsin Senate as WiG headed to press. The Assembly also will take it up and pass it quickly. Gov. Scott Walker has said he’ll sign it into law. There will be no discussions or debates over this issue, just as there were none preceding Walker’s gutting of public unions in 2011.
No one knows fully what effect destroying unions will ultimately have on workers or the quality of American goods. Will the nation morph into a cheap labor market like India? Will we see a return of the sweatshops and virtual slavery that characterized working conditions for the poor prior to the rise of unions? Will workhouses for children reappear? We already know that Koch-backed groups are vigorously trying to eliminate workplace safety laws, so apparently nothing is off the table.
We also know that:
• Workers in “right-to-work” states earn about $1,500 less per year less than workers in other states. The discrepancy is even wider for women and workers of color.
• The rate of workplace deaths is higher in “right-to-work” states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
• The rate of employer-sponsored health insurance for workers in “right-to-work” states is 2.6 percentage points lower than in other states.
• Seven of the 11 states with the highest unemployment rates are “right-to-work” states.
Walker fears that a law turning Wisconsin, the very home of the labor movement, into a so-called “right-to-work” state will disrupt his presidential aspirations by provoking the massive kind of demonstrations that Madison saw in the wake of Act 10. Let’s make his wildest fears come true.
It’s time to organize once more in solidarity. We cannot sit by quietly and let the nation’s oligarchy continue to throw our middle class under the bus so they can purchase their next $100 million penthouse and $20,000 shower curtain with the sweat of our brow.
To learn about a rally opposing “right-to-work” in Milwaukee on Monday, click here.