Elizabeth Warren Would Like To Get Rid Of Right-To-Work-For-Less Laws, Please

Class War
Elizabeth Warren Would Like To Get Rid Of Right-To-Work-For-Less Laws, Please
File:Right to Work states.svg - Wikimedia Commons

This week, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and California congressman Brad Sherman reintroduced the Nationwide Right to Unionize Act (formerly the Protecting Workers and Improving Labor Standards Act), legislation that would bar states from implementing so-called right-to-work laws, which interfere in the ability of workers to organize effective unions and bargain for higher wages and better working conditions.

Sadly, right-to-work in this country does not mean guaranteed employment for all job seekers through a vibrant public works program — though that would be awesome. What it means is that the state bars union security agreements that require employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment. For decades, Republicans (and a few Democrats here and there) have worked hard to present this as an issue of "freedom" — claiming that it is unfair to force people to pay dues to unions if they don't believe in unions. It is, quite frankly, easy to see how people could find that very reasonable. The problem, however, is that the unions are still required to represent employees who don't pay dues, which decreases their budget and therefore the effectiveness of collective bargaining and leads to lower wages across the board for all full-time employees, whether or not they belong to a union.

This, obviously, is bad. Taking the "collective" out of collective bargaining isn't helpful for anyone.


Via Elizabeth Warren:

Twenty-seven states have enacted “right-to-work” laws that prevent unions from collecting dues from non-union members who are covered under a union-negotiated contract. These laws make it more difficult for workers to form unions and fight for higher wages and better working conditions in the states that adopt them, resulting in a 5% decrease in unionization rates and a decrease in average wages for all full-time workers of 3.1%, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, or about $11,000 a year, according to a report released by Rep. Sherman’s office.

Union dues are usually about two and a half times one's hourly wage a month. So, say someone makes the average wage of $32 an hour, their union dues are $80 a month and $960 a year ... which you may note is much less than $11,000. These laws are basically taking food out of people's mouths.

Right-to-work-for-less laws have been a major factor in increasing income inequality throughout the years, a problem that is becoming increasingly unsustainable. Wages have certainly gone up post-pandemic, but they are still nowhere where they would be if they had kept pace with worker productivity and executive pay — and a lot of that is due to the diminished power of unions.

“Republicans and their corporate interest backers have imposed state laws with only one goal: destroy unions and discourage workers from organizing for higher wages, fair benefits, and safer working conditions,” said Senator Warren. “At a time when labor unions are growing in both size, popularity, and delivering real wins for workers, Democrats are making clear that we stand in solidarity with workers everywhere, from Starbucks baristas to Google cafeteria workers and everyone in between.”

“So called ‘right-to-work’ laws are designed to make it difficult to organize a union,” said Congressman Sherman. “This impacts not only workers who want a union – but general wage levels throughout the state. In an ill-conceived effort to attract business, one state after another has adopted these anti-union laws in a race to the bottom."

It's also important to note the racist history of these laws and the way they perpetuate social inequality as well.

“So called “right-to-work” laws have their roots in some of the ugliest parts of our country’s history,” said Rebecca Dixon, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project. “Like so many other workplace laws, “right-to-work” is a policy that was designed to make sure that white people did not have to join unions and join their fates and interests to those of Black workers in the South. Today, these laws operate exactly as intended, and drive down wages and conditions of work in far too many states where large proportions of the working class are people of color.”

Will this get the 60 votes required to pass the filibuster? Maybe not. But it's important to keep at this, keep reintroducing these bills, regardless of what can be done right now, because people need to see "what could be" and who it is that is preventing that from happening. People need to be thinking "I'd be able to pay this bill right now if it weren't for the GOP." Part of the reason wages have gone up and union participation is increasing is that people are starting to realize their worth and are now less interested in selflessly devoting themselves to "job creators" who enrich themselves while they go broke. This is the time to keep pushing for these things and not stop until we get them.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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