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Friday, December 14, 2012

Get over it, GOP: "Right-to-Work" laws are a bad, bad idea


There is something wrong with the map to the right. Indiana- and Michigan, of all states!- have joined the ranks of those having a so-called "right-to-work" law. This is a disaster for the labor movement, for working people- and for America.

Please bear in mind that this somewhat idiosyncratic post is written by the son of a UAW shop committeeman whose middle name was "McKinley." I cherish my dad's tradition of thinking for myself rather than letting political ideology or group affiliation do my thinking for me, and there are few issues on which that penchant expresses itself more strongly in my heart than the travesty misnamed "the right-to-work law."

Dad- lifelong Republican that he was- thought that Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, which authorizes such laws, was an abomination. I agree.

It's not often that I agree with Michael Kinsley, and even more seldom that I agree with an article entitled "The Liberal Case against...." anything. But I commend this article to you (while noting with puzzled amusement that its URL renames the article "the conservative case for 'right to work' laws!").

Such laws have nothing to do with a "right to work." Rather, they establish a right to all of the benefits of union membership with none of the obligations. To whom does such a "right" appeal? Probably to less-than-thoughtful workers who think (wrongly) that they're getting something for nothing. But most of all, they appeal to employers whom they certainly enable to get a great deal for nothing.

It is true, as advocates of "right-to-work" laws maintain, that they draw business to the states which adopt them. There is a very simple reason for this: they're an effective union-busting tool which dry up union coffers, deprive working people of recourse when they are abused by their employers, and make it possible for employers to get away with bloody murder, thus operating at enhanced profit margins and making more money. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with making money (the current Democratic party to the contrary). But there is something very wrong with a company treating its employees like human garbage in order to make more of it.

It is no accident that Mississippi is the state which comes to mind most readily when any but the most brainwashed conservative hears the words "right-to-work state." The states which have "right-to-work" laws are the states with the lowest wages and benefits in the country. Such laws drastically drive down wages and usually make working conditions close to unbearable. I have the dubious pleasure of living in a "right-to-work" state- Iowa- at present; I grew up in Illinois, a state with many problems but at least with labor laws enlightened enough to enable those who work for a living to do so with a modicum of dignity.

One of the employers in the community in which I did my vicarage used to pull my supervisor's cork, and rightly so: its workers were not allowed to attend church. In Illinois, it is illegal for an employer to force an employee to work more than a specific number of days in a row. I imagine that there is a similar law in Iowa- there would almost have to be- but the number is far larger. The company in question required its workers to work seven days a week, giving them a day off only when required by law to do so. If an employee protested, he was simply informed that nobody forced him to work there.

Which was true. In some economies, that might even be a valid point. But certainly not in this one. And no employee should be forced to miss church because he doesn't have a union strong enough to ensure him that right.

Today "right-to-work" laws are especially attractive to companies trying to cope with a difficult business environment. Their attraction, it should be plainly stated, lies in the degree to which they enable companies to take advantage of the high rate of unemployment to force workers to accept jobs under unreasonable conditions. This is simply wrong.

Labor unions declined in influence in some measure because we had reached a point where corporations realized that it was in their long-term interest to treat employees as partners rather than opponents, and to make common cause with them. One doesn't need a strong union to protect one from a beneficent boss. But the collapse of the economy changed all that. Human nature is human nature, original sin is original sin, and the instinct to take advantage of the misfortune of one's fellow man is part of the package.

In fact, it's always been a very prominent part of the economic equation in some states.

The ones with "right-to-work" laws.

HT: Real Clear Politics

10 comments:

Jeff D said...

Greetings! I'll start off by disclosing that, as a Michigander, I am very happy that Michigan—of all states!—has joined the ranks of those having a right-to-work law. I didn't vote for Governor Snyder last time, but I sure will next time.

Having gotten that out of the way, maybe you can clear something up for me. I don't really understand why there is a "free rider" problem. Why does somebody who chooses to not join the union get the benefits of the union? Why don't they have to negotiate their contract on their own, etc.? That seems odd.

I have the vague idea that it is because that's what it says in Federal law, but I'm not sure. If it is Federal law, you can't really blame Michigan for that. Talk to the Federal government.

Barb the Evil Genius said...

<a href="http://blog.heritage.org/2012/12/11/michigan-unions-freeloader-myth/>Unions are not required to represent non-union members.</a>

Honestly, I would never join a union, because I would be pissed at my money going to support Democrat candidates without my approval. After all the nasty, violent crap unions have pulled in Wisconsin and Florida, I can't believe anyone could support them. Anyone who threatens, "There will be blood"? No, just no.

Robert E. Waters said...

Jeff, I'm not surprised at your response; you can be counted on to be irrational on just about any subject on demand. For crying out loud, you think America was the bad guy on 9/11!

In this case, as in most, you would probably be better advised to get at least a vague idea of what you're talking about before forming an opinion about it. But then, since you usually skip that step, I'm not surprised.

The whole point is that that is what a so-called "Right-to-Work" law is! A special piece of Federal legislation- Section 14(b)
if the Taft-Hartley Act- grants non-union workers what amounts to a license to steal. They are guaranteed all the benefits of any contract the union negotiates, while not having to pay union dues. They get all the benefits of belonging to a union but none of the responsibilities.

In essence, a "Right-to-Work" law has only one purpose: union busting. It's designed to keep workers at the absolute mercy of their employers, with no power or recourse almost no matter how abusive or exploitative the employers' treatmenf of their employees might be. It's immoral because it's immoral to steal- and a "Right-to-Work" law is essentially a license for non-union workers to steal benefits they are not morally entitled to.

The irony is that they end up getting the shaft right along with everyone else, since wages in "Right-to-Work" states are an average of about ten percent lower than in the rest of the country, with benefits- including health insurance- correspondingly negligable. And of course, it is also in essense a license for employers to steal the labor of their employees, especially in bad economies, and to avoid paying a living wage.

Immoral no matter how you look at it. And bad public policy, especially in hard times.

Robert E. Waters said...

First, Barb, the argument presented by the blog at the Heritage Foundation is sheer nonsense. In fact, it's out-and-out dishonest.

First, if poltiical contributions were not contributions spent in the advancement of worker interests, we would not be having this conversation. Republicans would not be supporting "Right-to-Work" laws and other anti-union legislation. And yes, organizations do need infrastructure and operating expenses.

And yes, in the ways that matter, unions DO have to represent non-union members. Hey, if the law were changed so that only union members would get pay raises and increases in benefits won by strikes, that would be as good as doing away with "Right-to-Work" laws. There would no longer be an incentive for workers not to join the union. Unfortunately, it ain't gonna happen. The only purpose of "Right-to-Work" laws is to starve unions of dues by getting workers to accept the insignificant short-term benefits of not joining at the much larger long-term price of having the interests of all workers subordinated tot those of the employer.

Robert E. Waters said...

Barb, with all due respect, you would benefit from a bit more thorough education in American history. The amount of blood that has been shed by union-busting companies- I'm not talking about rhetoric here, but actual violence, actual armed assault on people carrying out their First Amendment right to free speech, actual murder- is to blood shed by the stereotypical "union thug" as a juice glass is to Lake Michigan. For a considerable portion of our history, in fact, the political influence of employers has been great enough to have labor organizers like the Haymarket defendents in my home town- Chicago- hanged for crimes for which there was literally no evidence of their guilt in order to get them out of the way. The Haymarket "riot," btw, was a peaceful demonstration against the police for having opened fire on a peaceful picket line at the McCormack Harvester plant a few days ago and murdered several union members in cold blood. To this day, nobody knows who threw the bomb at the Haymarket, and there is as much reason to think that it was an anti-union provacatuer as otherwise. And nearly all of those killed died as the result of policemen firing indiscriminately into the crowd. That includes the policemen who were killed.

Intimidation has always been a major card for employers, and not simply the threat of being fired (which was also an option whenever a worker spoke up about maltreatment on the job). A great many people shed a great deal of literal, and not rhetorical, blood to get us beyond that days- and to get you, even as member of a non-union household, such things as employer-contributed health insurance, a guarantee that if you work you will not lose your job for being sick or having a baby, and a decent living wage.

Give those things up voluntarily, Barb, and you will speak with more authority and authenticity.

I happen to agree with your reservation about union contributions to Democratic candidates. But are you listening to yourself? Of course unions contribute to Democrtic candidates. Democrats support the interests of their members, whereas at least on this issue (and many others) Republicans oppose them. In their shoes, who would you support? Would you take kindly to a piece of legislation which will likely mean that you would have ten percent less income with which to house and feed your family, and drastically reduced benefits? And I'm not going to get into the moral issue of stealing union benefts, which is what "Right-to-Work" laws are essentially licenses to do. Whenever I have had a union job, I have cringed at the prospect of having my dues spent in any measure on contributions to Democrtic candidates. But in the last analysis, isn't protecting the interests of its members what any such organization is supposed to do, whether the UAW or the NAM or the AARP?

"Right-to-Work" states have about ten percent more jobs than others. Bad jobs with low pay and few benefits. It's not hard to see why. If you can treat your employees like slaves and increase your profit margin, why not?

But these are human beings, Barb- people with families to take care of, children who get sick- and will have a harder time doing so because of these laws. No, Barb, the Seventh Commandment is not the only one involved here.

The Fifth Commandment is, too.

Jeff D said...

you think America was the bad guy on 9/11

What the pfargtl?

Robert E. Waters said...

Really? You've changed your mind, and decided that you disagree with Ron Paul on that point after all?

Barb the Evil Genius said...

Guess what? My husband did lose his job because he got sick. I still don't think unions are a good idea. And I don't like being condescended to.

Robert E. Waters said...

Barb, I'm sorry that you feel condescended to, but I think you're wrong. You seem to be pretty wedded to a position that seems clearly not to be in your own interest, too.

Robert E. Waters said...

Barb, I just re-read my second post to you and I apologize for the tone. I see why you feel condescended to. My only purpose with the history crack was to point out that the "union thug" meme is a consciously-created stereotype which historically applies more to management than to labor, and in many cases doesn't apply to labor at all.