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Commentary
'Right to Work?' Wrong for the middle class… and Minnesota

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, January 27, 2012

By Bill McCarthy, President, Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation

As last month’s Labor Review reported, we may see action in the 2012 session of the Minnesota legislature on several anti-worker constitutional amendments backed by out-of-state corporate CEOs.

The worst of the bunch by far is the misleadingly-named “Right to Work” amendment. This amendment, if passed by the legislature and then by voters in November, would put Minnesota in the ranks of 22 other states with similar laws.

The one and only goal of “Right to Work” is weaken workers’ collective power, weaken collective bargaining, and put unions out of business.

What are some of the values and benefits you receive from belonging to a union? We posed that question to a gathering of union members in the northern suburbs at the beginning of a recent MRLF briefing on the “Right to Work” amendment.

Contact your legislators and tell them “Right to Work” is wrong for the middle class!

Members of the group called out answers without hesitation: a living wage, health care, safety, training, pensions, and “being treated fairly and respectfully in the workplace.”

One union member said, “it’s so powerful to be able to sit at the table with the boss and negotiate your terms of employment as an equal… That’s what it’s all about for me.”

These union members spoke clearly and passionately about the benefits that come from collective bargaining and union membership.

For generations of workers, a union card has been the ticket to entry into the middle class.

The right to collective bargaining didn’t fall from the sky like manna from heaven, however — workers struggled for years to win collective bargaining rights, leading to the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935.

In the years that followed, workers organized unions in unprecedented numbers and through collective bargaining won an increased standard of living for themselves and millions of Americans.

But, in 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act — over President Truman’s veto — which opened the door for the states to enact so-called “Right to Work” laws.

These laws guarantee no rights and no work. Instead, they undermine collective bargaining power by allowing individuals covered by a union contract to opt out of paying union dues. The workers who opt out of paying dues still receive the benefits of the union contract and the union must still represent them. Union strength diminishes.

What’s the result? In the states with “Right to Work” laws, union and non-union workers earn an average of $5,538 less per year than workers living in states without such laws. More people lack health insurance. The wage gap for women and people of color is greater. Schools spend less per pupil and perform less well. Seven of the ten poorest states are “Right to Work” states.

The move to enact “Right to Work” in Minnesota is part of a national push by powerful, well-funded corporate CEOs and the politicians who do their bidding.

The language in the constitutional amendment is misleading — using nice-sounding phrases like “freedom to decide.” Don’t be bamboozled!

I encourage you to:

• Learn more about “Right to Work” at a briefing sponsored by the MRLF or your local union;

• Alert your co-workers, neighbors and friends to this attack on the middle class;

• Contact your legislators and tell them “Right to Work” is wrong for the middle class.

Remember, Governor Dayton has no veto over constitutional amendments. If passed by a simple majority in both the Minnesota House and Minnesota Senate, a constitutional amendment goes on the November ballot. Let’s stop it in the legislature.

“Right to Work” is wrong for the middle class, wrong for Minnesota.

 

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