President Obama won reelection, Democrats defended the Senate, picked up 9 seats in the House and because we forgot there were midterm elections workers are still losing their rights. Indiana is now a Right to Work State, Scott Walker will most likely try to it again in Wisconsin in 2013, Michigan is on the brink with Right to Work legislation passing the state house and senate this very day, in Ohio the people had to overturn it and somehow the Pennsylvania legislature let right to work get bottled up in committee. The rust belt, where working men and women built America, where unions emboldened the middle class let up their guard in 2010 and dealt a self-inflicted blow that could affect labor for a good while.
2010 wasn't the beginning of the crisis for labor in America. Yale Law Professor Bruce Ackerman wrote in his essay, The Citizenship Agenda:
"Progressives have been fighting a rearguard battle in defense of the civic achievements of the twentieth century."
from defending social security and Medicare from cut happy Republicans, to protecting your legal right to organize in the workplace. Liberals and Progressives have been fighting to maintain the civil gains that we all take for granted. The gains that Republicans have always claimed are just too costly for business. And with the low voter turnout in 2010 leading to a Conservative landslide in these rust belt states the rearguard battle that Professor Ackerman referred to turned into a full frontal assault on workers' rights.
In Michigan a 68% turnout in 2008 dropped to a 45% in 2010, Wisconsin had the 4th highest turnout in the nation in 2008 at 69.2% which dropped to 49% in 2010, and in my home state of Pennsylvania a 64.6% turnout dropped to an embarrassing 41.7%. It was like the dream of Conservative activist and founder of ALEC Paul Weyrich coming true when he stated:
"I don't want everybody to vote"As a matter of fact our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down"
The desire to replicate the low voter turnout in 2012 was so important that throughout the rust belt, newly elected conservative state legislature tried to ram restrictive Voter ID measures, limit early voting and come up with new and improved strategies to restrict access to the franchise.
Right to Work Legislation, no matter how it has been framed has nothing to do with helping the worker gain employment; it's about lowering wages, benefits, making it harder for Unions to collect dues and creating an easier environment where profits can be made at your expense. In article written last year when the Michigan legislature considered this same legislation, Gorden Lafer of the Economic Policy Institute stated:
RTW laws lower wages for union and non-union workers by an average of $1,500 a year and decrease the likelihood employees will get health insurance or pensions through their jobs.
when you lower wages for the sake of lower wages you do not create more jobs. And those workers whose wages you lower are not becoming better consumers for the market.
"For every $1 million in wage cuts to workers, $850,000 less is spent in the economy, which translates into a loss of six jobs" (click here=Economic+Policy+Institute&utm_campaign=c4703511a8-EPI_News&utm_medium=email)
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However, those wage cuts can redirect money to a very important corporate need; executive bonuses. And as far as safety is concerned, according to research from Roland Zullo of the University of Michigan:
"The rate of industry fatalities is 40 percent higher in RTW states, and the rate of occupational fatalities is 34 percent higher in RTW states"( click here)
Right to Work for less money, fewer benefits and reduced safety conditions is of no benefit to the worker.
Right to Work activists love to tout the freedom line. The legislation is all about creating freedom in the workplace. As long as that freedom is not to exercise the rights guaranteed by section 1 of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935:
"encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection"
Those freedoms must be restricted, like conservatives were able to through the neutering of the NLRA twelve years later with Taft-Hartley, Right to Work and other measures to control workers from gaining to much power in the workplace.
When Right to Work legislation was hammered through a locked Capitol building in Lansing, without any hearings and on the same day it was introduced in a lame duck session, Fox News declared a "Victory for Capitalism". However, as long as unions continue to lose strength and the downward spiral of workers freedom continues the worst parts of capitalism will be more and more evident.
Furthermore, the fewer benefits that can be negotiated through a labor contract will lead to more Government dependency. As Labor Lawyer Thomas Geoghegan states in his book Were you born on the Wrong Continent? How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life: "taxpayers are off the hook because the employer provides the safety net" unfortunately for the American worker, these benefits cut too much into executive bonuses and the wanton needs of the few.
Rich Bergen is the managing editor and primary writer for ProgressMo Shuffle. Rich is a Center for Progressive Leadership 2012 Pennsylvania Political Leader Fellow, a Correction Officer, Union Steward, graduate from Concordia College-Bronxville with (more...
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