Late Wednesday night, the Wisconsin state Senate voted 17–15 to advance a “right to work” bill that has been widely criticized as harmful to the working families of the state. Thousands rallied outside the Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday in opposition to the legislation, as similar laws have been shown to have widespread negative effects in the other states that have passed them. Republicans Fast Tracked the bill in order to limit public discussion and feedback, and the bill is expected to be voted on by the state Assembly next week. If it passes, it will be sent to Gov. Scott Walker (R) who has indicated he will sign it.
Republicans Fast Tracked the bill in order to limit public discussion and feedback, and the bill is expected to be voted on by the state Assembly next week. If it passes, it will be sent to Gov. Scott Walker (R) who has indicated he will sign it.
Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt, expressed dismay over Republicans ignoring the will of the people:
Republican senators clearly weren’t there to listen to their constituents or vote in the best interests of all Wisconsinites. With out-of-state special interests calling the shots, Wisconsin citizens get left behind. Right to work is a continuation of the destructive policies of the Scott Walker administration that have cost Wisconsin jobs and economic opportunity.
Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale echoed those comments:
Despite hours and hours of testimony on how right to work will lower wages, increase workplace deaths and erode the base of the middle class by crippling the ability of workers to team up and join together through their unions for a strong voice in the workplace, Republican senators rammed right to work legislation through the Senate in a disheartening move to democracy.
Wisconsin’s working families aren’t allowing Walker and his allies to silence them. They will rally again on Saturday at noon to make sure their voices are heard and will be out in force for a scheduled committee meeting on Tuesday and an expected floor vote in the Assembly on Thursday.
State Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D) summed up the effects of the bill: “This bill is going to drive down family wages. Period.” UAW member John Drew condemned the legislation as “a political attack on labor, dressed up as an issue of worker freedom. They want to beat us down, brothers and sisters. This is politics, pure and simple.”
Republican leaders couldn’t even convince all of the members of their own party of the merits of the legislation. State Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R) voted against the bill: “I am not convinced that the supposed benefits of passing this bill will materialize and offset a potentially disruptive impact on our economy.” He was the only Republican who stood and spoke in support of the legislation. The public wasn’t convinced, either. More than 1,750 Wisconsinites submitted comments or registered to speak against the bill at the hearing. Only 25 were in favor.
Unions representing Wisconsin’s professional athletes also weighed in, opposing right to work. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) issued a strong statement:
The NFL Players Association stands together with the working families of Wisconsin and organized labor in their fight against current attacks against their right to stand together as a team.
Devoted food and commercial workers who spend their Sundays servicing our players and fans at Lambeau Field will have their well-being and livelihood jeopardized by right to work. Governor Scott Walker may not value these vital employees but, as union members, we do. We understand how devastating it would be if they lost the ability to have their workplace conditions and wages guaranteed through collective bargaining. We do not have to look any further than our own [collective bargaining agreement] to see that a band of workers, joined together as a union, can overcome decades of poor workplace conditions and drastically improve pensions and benefits.
The Major League Baseball Players Association stands with our brothers and sisters in organized labor and deplores the current attempts in Wisconsin to undermine the collective voices of working people by seeking passage of so-called “right to work” legislation. We are proud to be among the ranks of labor unions that negotiate the terms and conditions of employment for their members, sitting across the table from management as equal parties under the federal law that guarantees the right to union representation. This state legislation is nothing more than an obvious attempt to undermine those rights and that power.
The current bill would impede the ability of working families in Wisconsin to achieve fair collective bargaining agreements with good wages and appropriate on the job protections. “Right to work” is not about freedom, it is about empowering employers at the expense of the employees. Again, we urge a No vote on the current legislation.
Wisconsin isn’t the only state where extremists are pushing right to work legislation in an attempt to silence working families. New Mexico’s legislature is headed down the same destructive path as are several other states.
The news from Wisconsin, during Gov. Scott Walker’s era, is once again bad for working families. The legislature is not only planning to introduce “right to work” legislation this week, it intends to Fast Track it, and Walker said he intends to sign it. Before we get into the reasons why right to work is wrong for Wisconsin (and everywhere else), here are a few steps you can take right now if you care about the future of Wisconsin and its workers.
Public testimony begins Tuesday on the right to work legislation. If you can, attend and speak up.
Attend one of the Madison rallies on Tuesday or Wednesday this week. Learn more.
You can follow the rallies and the story on Twitter with the hashtags: #wipolitics, #righttowork and#wiunion. If you need more information before participating, here are eight reasons why right to work is bad for Wisconsin’s working families. Right to work laws:
1. Make it easier for CEOs to cut health and safety protections for workers. Workers in right to work states are twice as likely to die on the job as workers in states without such laws. Wisconsin already has a higher job fatality rate than the national average. In 2013, 96 workers lost their lives on the job in Wisconsin.
2. Increase risk of on-the-job injury. Wisconsin workers already are at a higher risk of injury at work, with a rate much higher than the national average. In 2013, Wisconsin workers suffered more than 85,200 work-related injuries and illnesses. Employees in foundries, wood products manufacturing, transportation, nursing homes, as well as the police and firefighters, are particularly likely to be hurt at work.
3. Lower wages and health insurance coverage for workers, thus increasing poverty and infant mortality.
4. Decrease investment in education.
5. Undercut the ability of unions to bargain for safety standards and rights stronger than the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) standards.
6. Limit the ability of unions to encourage compliance with worker protections, which unions do through collective bargaining agreements, member training and education, and workplace safety and health committees within the unions. Evidence shows that union workplaces have a much stronger enforcement of job safety rules than nonunion workplaces.
7. Weaken the protections for workers who are retaliated against for raising job safety concerns.
8. Make Wisconsin even more unsafe than it already is for workers. Currently, under the federal OSHA law, only 36 inspectors are available to check out 159,000 workplaces, meaning OSHA can only inspect each workplace once every 104 years. Similarly, the state’s penalties for job safety and health violations are too low. In fiscal year 2013, the average penalty for a serious safety violation was only $2,207. For killing a worker, it was only $3,000. Such low figures offer little deterrence.
The effort to lower wages in America is going to reach new heights in Wisconsin this week. Wall Street billionaires and political extremists are joining together to force a vote on right to work legislation, which is wrong for Wisconsin’s hardworking families. This is a blatant attempt to silence workers’ voices to stop us from speaking out about lower wages and mistreatment at work.
In America, we have a strong tradition of having each others’ backs. Right now, workers from throughout Wisconsin and across the country are gathering in Wisconsin to fight back, together. They are using the tool Gov. Walker is most afraid of: their collective voice.
This right to work sham is about much more than unions. It is simply the next step in the billionaire right wing’s attempt to strip our freedoms to bargain with our employers as we see fit, ensure safe workplaces and raise wages across the country. Billionaires like the Koch brothers and the Walton family are engaged in a systematic attempt to dismantle our economy by lowering wages, while lining their pockets with record profits.
Union-busters bragged that “right to work” ordinances would be on the books in 30 of Kentucky’s 120 counties by Jan. 31.
“They have fallen well short of their goal,” says Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.
Warren County passed a right to work ordinance in December. Since, only four more counties have followed. Ordinances have passed on first reading in three others. Of the group, only Warren and Hardin counties don’t border Tennessee, a right to work state.
Londrigan says the state line counties “are low hanging fruit” that “seem to be more susceptible to right to work proponents’ lies about how they would get all those jobs from employers who are purportedly setting up shop just on the other side of the Tennessee border as if they were maquiladoras along the Mexican border.”
Grassroots opposition by union members and union allies statewide has helped stall the right to work drive, says Londrigan.
Counties the right to work supporters assumed would jump on board have suddenly backed off.
Londrigan says two other factors also have helped: a federal lawsuit filed by nine unions against the Hardin County ordinance—which could be applied to other right to work ordinances—and an opinion from Attorney General Jack Conway that county right to work ordinances are unconstitutional.
Also, the state AFL-CIO has sent hefty packets of information telling the truth about right to work to judge-executives and county attorneys across the state.
Meanwhile, Kentucky union members are showing up at fiscal court meetings to challenge right to work advocates from in-state and out-of-state groups, Londrigan says.
We have sent a strong message to the counties that organized labor will be fighting this plague in every corner of the commonwealth.
While the legal action in federal district court in Louisville and the attorney general’s opinion have prompted some county officials to hesitate on right to work, other county officials have told unions that they won’t pass a right to work ordinance regardless of how the suit turns out, according to Londrigan.
But it is extremely important that we stay engaged so that we have the necessary information to defeat this anti-worker, anti-union onslaught.
Londrigan says Bluegrass State unions have let the union-busters:
know that the Kentucky labor movement isn’t going to roll over for them and that we are never going to stop fighting for economic, political and social justice.
In Warren County, Ky., a fiscal court has given preliminary approval to a local “right to work” for less ordinance. The measure is worded as to prevent any worker covered by the National Labor Relations Act from being required to join or pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. Since it is already illegal in the United States to require workers to join unions, the real focus of the measure is to weaken workers in negotiations with employers for decent wages and benefits. Instead of passing illegal ordinances that are a big waste of time and resources for the county, those efforts should be spent in other ways like focusing on raising wages for Warren County residents.
If you’re in Kentucky, call the fiscal court today and tell them you oppose the right to work ordinance: 1-855-721-3304.
Here are seven specific ways that this measure would hurt workers in Warren County, most of which would apply to workers in other Kentucky locales (and elsewhere) if the process were repeated elsewhere:
1. It’s illegal and will create an administrative nightmare: A Kentucky court already has said that right to work laws can only be made at the state level. If it goes into effect, it will lead to legal wrangling and make compliance very difficult for companies that work in more than one Kentucky county.
2. The law is being pushed by rich extremists from out of state: The Bluegrass Institute, a Kentucky “think tank,” that is pushing local right to work laws like this one receives massive amounts of funding from out-of-state interests that won’t be affected by the negative impact of such laws on Kentuckians. A shadowy network of groups, many of them connected to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, and the billionaire Koch Brothers, pushes these laws across the country, with little concern about the local impact and without revealing their funding and broader agenda.
3. The law is being advanced with little input with a high level of secrecy: On Dec. 11, the court voted to pass the law. The right to work measure was part of a bill called Promotion of Economic Development and Commerce for Warren County and it was handed out 15 minutes before the vote, a vote that was held 19 out of 20 during the meeting. Where was the public input? Who proposed the measure? Who supported it? What economic impacts would it have on workers? Were any questions asked or answered during the process?
5. These laws don’t actually boost the economy: A significant body of research backs that claim, and even some conservatives, such as Stanley Greer, a spokesperson for the National Right to Work Committee, have admitted it: “We’re not purporting to prove that right to work produces superior economic performance.”
6. Voters don’t want it: In November, Kentucky voters rejected candidates funded by out-of-state interests with extreme agendas, including right to work.
7. Kentucky residents have other priorities: The state’s hardworking families need a raise, more good jobs and more investment in education. This measure will accomplish none of that.
You have to look pretty hard to find something for unions to celebrate after the election.
But take a gander at the Bluegrass State beyond its much-publicized and hotly contested U.S. Senate race, and you’ll see where anti-union Republicans failed, big time.
The Kentucky GOP very publicly promised to put the Bluegrass State in the “right to work” column if they flipped the Democratic-majority state House of Representatives. The Republicans came up short.
While Mitch McConnell beat labor-endorsed Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in the U.S. Senate battle, the state House is still Democratic and by the same 54–46 pre-election margin.
Of course, McConnell v. Grimes grabbed the lion’s share of media attention nationally and statewide. Even so, the House results are good news for unions in an otherwise generally disappointing election.
With the Democrats holding onto the House, Kentucky will remain the only non-right to work state in the South. Jeff Wiggins, president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, said:
The outcome of the House races was huge for us. All that stands between us and a right to work law is that Democratic House.
The state Senate has a right to work Republican majority. Gov. Steve Beshear, a union-backed Democrat, would almost certainly veto a right to work bill. But in Kentucky, a simple majority of both houses of the legislature overrides a governor’s veto.
The House Republican candidates united to make right to work one of their top issues. Rep. Jeff Hoover, the House minority leader, stumped the state for right to work, posing for TV and newspaper cameras with local Republican candidates in tow.
A slew of GOP radio, TV and print ads touted a right to work law. The Republicans maintained such a measure would lead to dozens of companies and thousands of good jobs coming to Kentucky.
Paducah Plumbers and Steamfitters (UA) Local 184 challenged the Republicans on some of their turf, the GOP-friendly, anti-union Paducah Sun. The newspaper endorsed McConnell. Even so, Local 184 took out a full page in the paper debunking Republican claims about right to work.
State Rep. Gerald Watkins of Paducah was one of the victorious labor-endorsed Democrats. “The ad was great and strong union support really helped me,” said Watkins, one of the pro-union incumbents the GOP targeted for defeat.
Wiggins, who is also president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9447, said a Republican majority legislature wouldn’t have stopped with a right to work law.
They would have repealed our prevailing wage law, too. We’d have ended up working for less money, and our workplaces would have become less safe. The Republicans would have turned back the clock to the time of no unions and the company store.
It’s an election year and we are quickly approaching the time when working families will have the opportunity to go to the polls and vote against a whole host of extreme candidates who support policies that limit rights, make it even harder to afford a middle-class life and pad the pockets of their corporate buddies. One of the “Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections” is Bob Beauprez, who is running for governor in Colorado.
1. Beauprez supported legislation that deregulated financial systems, one of the major causes of the 2008 financial crisis that hit Colorado families so hard. [H.R. 2061, introduced 5/3/05; The Denver Post, 6/11/06]
2. He voted for laws to weaken consumer protections. [H.R. 2061, introduced 5/3/05; The Denver Post, 6/11/06]
3. He also voted for laws reducing the supervision of bankers and co-sponsored more than 100 pieces of legislation on taxation and banking that benefited Wall Street at the expense of working families. [H.R. 2061, introduced 5/3/05; The Denver Post, 6/11/06; Library of Congress, accessed 7/30/14]
4. Beauprez voted to enrich his Wall Street friends and even tried to reduce oversight on the bank where he made his $400 million fortune. [Library of Congress, accessed 7/30/14; H.R. 2061, introduced 5/3/05; The Denver Post, 6/11/06]
5. On taxes, Beauprez is even worse, having voted in favor of $774 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while trying to make working families pay a 23% tax on everything they buy. [H.R. 5638, Vote 316, 6/2/06; The Denver Post, 10/7/06]
6. At the extreme right-wing sight Townhall.com, Beauprez endorsed “right to work” legislation that does nothing but strip rights from workers, and he was a keynote speaker at a right to work convention in New Orleans. [Townhall.com, 7/14/12]
Here’s your rage-inducing video clip of the day. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal agrees in a CNBC interview his state is a real “deal” for businesses because workers are paid so little. Oh yeah, he directly ties this with being a “right to work” state.
Here’s a handy graphic from our friends at Working America that explains all you need to know about right to work states and the raw deal workers get there:
This morning, the Supreme Court ruled that state-paid home care workers cannot be required to pay fair share fees to a union, despite benefiting from the union-bargained things like higher pay and better job training.
Although the decision doesn’t get rid of fair share in the public sector completely, it’s still a blow to Illinois home care workers who depend on strong union representation to negotiate for better working conditions.
How does this affect homecare workers?
The decision means that, in Illinois, unions representing homecare workers will have fewer funds to negotiate for things like quality training and supplies, higher pay, or better working conditions; additionally, there’s less money to pay for legal help, staffing, and other costs of union representation. Like a “right to work” law, the decision is a roundabout way of defunding unions.
Under the Illinois union contract (the subject of the original court case) home care aides saw their wages increase from $7 an hour to $11.25 an hour. The wage is expected to increase to $13 an hour by December. Without a fair share fee to ensure that all who benefit share the cost, worker victories like that may not be feasible.
The list of donors to both groups reads like a “who’s who” of powerful conservatives: the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, the Walton Family [of Walmart] Foundation, , and the John M. Olin Foundation.
This case was never about whether or not Pamela Harris should have to pay her fair share fee, it’s about powerful people with corporate interests finding yet another tactic to weaken unions.
Why you should care – even if you aren’t in a union
More than a dispute over who should and shouldn’t pay for union representation, this was big business’ attempt to cripple the American workforce. This decision, as a result, not only affects the union and its members, but all workers.
There are two ways to look at this:
Your rights and conditions as a worker could suffer. Studies show that unions set the standard for all workers, even those who aren’t part of a union. Because of this, when something negative or positive happens to a group of organized workers – i.e. union members – you can bet that you, a non-unionized worker, will be impacted as well.
The decision could affect the quality of public homecare services in Illinois. According to The Hill, under the previous negotiated union contract, “the state has improved training, reduced turnover, and increased control over the quality of its providers.”
As a community member, home care is a critical public service. This decision weakens the homecare workforce in Illinois, and it could mean a drop in the quality of services that you or a family member relies on.
Again, the bill was introduced (SB 29 last time, HB 1617 this time). Again, there was enormous outcry from labor unions, community members, and the faith community. Again, debate on the floor revealed that the bill’s sponsors were unfamiliar with current paycheck deduction laws, which render “paycheck deception” laws redundant. Again, they didn’t care, because ALEC wrote the bill anyway, and because hurting labor unions is in their political interest. Again, it passed.
If ALEC did a remake of the movie Groundhog Day, it would look a lot like this.
But in this version, there were two major changes.
First, this version refers the issue to the 2014 ballot. This is because last year’s attempt at paycheck deception was vetoed by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, and despite controlling twin supermajorities in the legislature, the bill’s proponents were unable to get enough Republican votes to override.
Second, this year the bill lost even more Republican votes, a tight 83-70.
This mimics a trend in the Missouri Senate. While SB 29 passed the Senate on a near party-line vote last spring, two conservative Republicans opposed it when it came back around for an override attempt in the fall: Senator Wayne Wallingford (R-Cape Girardeau) voted no, while Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington) “took a walk” and was absent (a tactic often used to express passive opposition).
So why is this happening? It seems that for a number of Republican lawmakers, and for even more of their constituents, the ALEC-backed anti-worker agenda is getting tired. As the economy continues to struggle, the continued pushing of narrow, corporate-backed policies at the expense of job-creation policies–like Medicaid expansion and raising the minimum wage–is making less and less sense.
“There’s more and more of us on the Republican side who realize that labor is not the enemy,” said Republican Representative Anne Zerr. Rep. Zerr has opposed both paycheck deception and “right to work” in her caucus, and spoke at a rally opposing “right to work” last week. A former utility worker, Rep. Zerr stressed that she is doing her best to turn her caucus in a different direction. “We are educating our own,” she told the crowd.
But for now, HB 1617 moves next to the Missouri Senate. If the trend continues, that might be where it stops.
Four out of five of the states with the highest quality of living, according to the study, are free bargaining states: New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont, and Massachusetts.
The study confirmed something that more and more working Americans are learning every day: “right to work” laws are wrong for everyone.
Quick review: “Right to work” laws require unions to extend their services to all employees in a bargaining unit, whether or not they pay dues. By making dues optional, “right to work” laws force unions to spend more resources on collecting dues than on advocating for their members–both at the workplace and in the political arena. It’s a roundabout method of de-funding unions that has been instituted in 24 states.
The Politico Magazine study used rankings from the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI, and data on math and reading scores, average income, life expectancy, crime, home ownership, infant mortality, and more.
As 2014 kicks off with legislators and big-money donors pushing “right to work” and other collective bargaining restrictions in–at the very least–Missouri, Oregon, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, it’s important to make it very clear what effects these laws actually have, versus what their proponents claim they have.
A few effects of “right to work” are not disputed by its proponents. The key sponsors of the collective bargaining restrictions Missouri, for instance, openly admit that wages would go down if the law is passed. Indeed, wages in “right to work” states are 3.2 percent lower that in free bargaining states. Essentially, it’s like the average worker is paying an annual $1,500 fee for living in a “right to work” state. (Other reports have found “right to work” states have higher poverty rates, fewer workers with employer-based health insurance, and higher rates of workplace injuries and fatalities.)
But when you combine income with a host of other factors, as the Politico Magazine ranking does, the picture doesn’t get better for “right to work” states. Overall, 15 “right to work” states rank in the bottom 20.
The Politico Magazine ranking is not the definitive scientific report on quality of life. But it does confirm yet again that in places where workers’ right to organize is deceptively circumvented and wages decrease, other important life-quality factors decrease as well.
As legislators push these laws across the country, we should consistently require proof to back up their claims. The actual numbers don’t look too good for them.