The Watering Hole: Saturday, December 15, 2012 – What Is Right To Work Legislation?

Without unions there would be no middle class. I want you to remember that as we discuss just what is “right to work” legislation. Don’t let the name fool you. It does NOT mean that you have a right to any particular job, or that you can sue your employer just for being fired (whether you deserved it or not). What it really refers to is your right to work at a place without being forced to join a union. Before going into more detail about the concept, here’s a brief (less than 2 minutes) video on the history of unions. For a timeline of major events in union history, see here.

The year 1947 saw one of the most significant changes to union and labor law. Prior to that year, if you wanted to work at a place where the employees belonged to a union, you could be required to join that union and pay dues to it. (And that union could spend those dues on many things with which you may not have agreed.) There were exceptions, such as certain federal jobs (ironically), but closed shops were not unusual. You had to join the union and pay its dues to work there, and if you were no longer in the union (for whatever reason) you could be fired. In the 1947, the very pro-business 80th Congress, when both Houses were controlled by the Republican Party, passed the Labor Management Relations Act (nicknamed the Taft-Hartley Act) over President Harry Truman’s veto. For a “Do Nothing Congress”, they sure did a doozy with that one. They were a very anti-union Congress, and we should be grateful they didn’t pass more legislation.

You often hear that unionized places force people to join the union, but that’s not true (thanks to the Taft-Hartley Act.) State right to work laws force all unionized shops to become “open shops,” meaning employees cannot be forced to join a union. They also have the right to enjoy all the benefits that union workers enjoy. The union might fight for better working conditions for you and your fellow employees (it isn’t always about more pay), but whether or not you join the union you can, by law, enjoy whatever benefits the union wins. If they want, non-union workers can ask the union for help in dealing with their employer, and while they don’t have to pay union dues, they do have to compensate the union for acting on their behalf. But other than that, you can work at any non-federal place that has a union without being forced to join the union.

Now, you’re going to hear a lot of Republicans (like Michigan Governor Rick Snyder) say that right to work laws benefit workers and lead to more pay. Don’t believe it for a second. As union membership declines, so does middle class income. Without unions there would be no middle class.

As of this writing, the following 23 states have some form of right to work laws: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan(!), Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming. The latest addition to that list is Michigan. Nobody campaigned on busting unions in Michigan, even the governor. Why not? Because if they did, they would have lost control of the state government. (You can also thank some heavily gerrymandered districts for that. More people voted for Democrats than for Republicans, but because of gerrymandered districts, more Republicans were sent to the next Congress than Democrats.)

Ask any union member about right to work laws and they’ll tell you they should be called “Right to Work For Less” laws, because that is the ultimate effect of those laws. When workers enjoy the right to bargain collectively, everybody benefits, including the business owners. Again, it isn’t just about fair pay though that is often at issue, it’s about all working conditions. Unions, by fighting for higher standards for workers, businesses, families, the environment, and public health and safety, have helped to build the middle class and make sure the economy works for everyone. Are you eligible for overtime pay for working more than 40 hours? You can thank unions for that. Do you get paid sick days? Thank unions again. Is your work place safe? It probably wouldn’t be without unions.

Interestingly enough, both sides see this as a “Freedom of Assembly” issue. The pro-union side sees it as the right to assemble with those with whom you do want to assemble, and the anti-union side sees it as the right to not have to assemble with those with whom you don’t want to assemble. In other words, the pro-union side sees it as the freedom of assembly, and the anti-union side sees it as the freedom from assembly.

Without unions, if you weren’t a member of the very, very wealthy elite (and if you’re reading this blog, you probably aren’t, but I thank you for being here), then you would be among the very poor. It would just be the very few rich and the very many poor. If Republicans had their way, there would be no unions at all. The only way to stop them is to vote them out of office. But that will be difficult because they’ve done their best to rig the elections so that fewer people can vote who would vote against them. It is a strategy without honor, but so is the Republican Party. While the year 2020 is a long way off, it will be a very, very, very important year for elections. That is the year the next census is conducted, and as a result of that census, voting districts will be redrawn. If Republicans manage to win more seats around the country (and I’m not just talking about Congress, I’m talking about state legislatures, too), they will put the final nails in the coffin of Democracy. They will rig any and all elections so that they can never be voted out of power. We cannot let that happen, and we don’t have to wait until then. Start voting them out of office now. Make sure you are registered to vote and VOTE! And whatever you do, do not vote for Republicans. They lie. All the time.

[This post originally appeared on Pick Wayne’s Brain and has been slightly modified.]


49 thoughts on “The Watering Hole: Saturday, December 15, 2012 – What Is Right To Work Legislation?

  1. I’ve always felt that unions and management needed to work together to improve the operation of a business, especially with the changes that occur with new technology. An example would be the replacing of human labor with robot labor, somebody has to maintain the robots and program them and who better to do that work than someone who already understands the job. That works well when labor and management share the same goals of providing customers with quality products and services but not when the focus of the organization changes to enrich upper management, which too many times is to the detriment of the customers, shareholders and employees.

  2. The Republicans like to bash teachers yet teachers lost their lives shielding children from a shooter. Why? Because this is what teachers do. They care for our children when we aren’t there.

    Republicans spend lots of time talking about the dangers of “gay marriage” but don’t want to discuss gun control. How many people are killed by “gay marriage”?

    The news reports that yesterday’s shooter had mental health issues. All killers have mental health issues. The government emptied the mental health wards and put sick people out into the streets. As for insurance coverage for mental health problems, just look at your policy. Mental health treatment is hardly covered even by the best policies. As a result of inadequate treatment, people with mental health problems are left on their own with easy access to guns. What could possibly go wrong?

    It’s time to have this discussion on a national level and I believe that it will take women, strong men and religious leaders to lead the discussion.

  3. I am currently working on my whole post about guns in America. That does not mean any of my fellow writers for The Zoo can’t write their own posts, should they feel they have something to say about the topic in general. When it’s ready, mine will be posted both here and at my own blog.

  4. My sentiments exactly:

    The 2nd Amendment and Killing Kids

    The American Right is fond of putting itself inside the minds of America’s Founders and intuiting what was their “original intent” in writing the U.S. Constitution and its early additions, like the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms.” But, surely, James Madison and the others weren’t envisioning people with modern weapons mowing down children in a movie theater or a shopping mall or now a kindergarten.

    Indeed, when the Second Amendment was passed in the First Congress as part of the Bill of Rights, firearms were single-shot mechanisms that took time to load and reload. It was also clear that Madison and the others viewed the “right to bear arms” in the context of “a well-regulated militia” to defend communities from massacres, not as a means to enable such massacres.

    The Second Amendment reads: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Thus, the point of the Second Amendment is to ensure “security,” not undermine it.

    The massacre of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday, which followed other gun massacres in towns and cities across the country, represents the opposite of “security.” And it is time that Americans of all political persuasions recognize that protecting this kind of mass killing was not what the Founders had in mind.

    However, over the past several decades, self-interested right-wing “scholarship” has sought to reinvent the Framers as free-market, government-hating ideologues, though the key authors of the U.S. Constitution – people like James Madison and George Washington – could best be described as pragmatic nationalists who favored effective governance.

    • About 100 years ago (and even further back) even our Wild West got tamed. People got tired of living with the constant possibility of some idiot shooting up a town. People wanted law and order so they controlled guns. The US has been doing it ever since.

      This recent outbreak of panic has been foisted on frightened bigots as a way to destabilize America. The Right is working in a steady fashion to dismantle the US as a global power. I think in their dreams of oligarchy, the US is just to big of a loose cannon to be allowed to exist.

    • We also have a constitutional right to be free from this kind of violence.

      When the 2nd Amendment was written, white men were required to have rifles and were required to be registered by the government so that IF the government needed to call up a militia, they knew who to contact and since our government was broke, they needed the volunteer militia.

      The writers of the constitution did not envision a world with semi-automatic or automatic weapons.

      If we were a nation that really wanted to keep up with the times, we would create an amendment to cancel the second amendment and re-write the rules of gun ownership.

      • Amen. My sentiments exactly. Repeal the second and add a clarifying rewrite, one that STRONGLY limits private gun ownership, also one that places SEVERE limits on the type(s) of weapons that are even available for private ownership, and one that makes punishment for violation thereof gravely unpleasant, at least.

        Frankly, I see no need to ever own a gun. Period. And would accept an amendment specifying just that. I wonder what percentage of the population might just agree with that concept? I seriously doubt I’m alone on it, though I doubt I’m anywhere close to a majority, either. Still, I’d like to know. Curiosity.

        • The need for private citizen militias was imperative in the early days of the nation. There were numerous countries that weren’t ready to except the US and we didn’t have the means of supporting a full time military. This is no longer the case. Nor are we like Switzerland or Israel, geographically small with low population where able bodied citizens would be required to have guns (and serious training).

          It is one thing to have citizens able to own rifles and shotguns for use in hunting. (Funny how no one complains they need to buy licenses to do that.) The idea that citizens ‘need’ to have semi-automatic rifles and handguns is ridiculous. And high capacity magazines are for combat use only. This latest craze is hysterical paranoia.

        • You’re not alone. I’ve thought through various hypothetical situations, and I just can’t see myself with a gun or rifle in my hands. Besides, I have so many floaters in my eyes that I have trouble focusing with a camera, I wouldn’t be able to aim accurately.

        • I forgot to mention that another reason white men were allowed to own muskets was for hunting. There were no super markets so many people had to rely on what food they could find on their own.

          The second amendment is certainly outdated.

  5. Ozzy Ozbourne: If “guns don’t kill ppl, but ppl kill ppl…why do we give ppl guns when they go to war? Why not just send the ppl?”

  6. I live in Michigan. This whole thing started when the unions tried to pass Proposition 2 this year. This proposition was crafted by the unions and would have amended the state’s constitution to guarantee public and private-sector employees the right to organize and collectively bargain. Labor spent $21.5 million promoting it, and yet it lost by a margin of 58% to 42%. The people spoke. The unions lost. THAT’S what brought this issue front and center. And THAT’S what prompted Governor Snyder to do an about face on passing right to work legislation after pleading with the unions not to proceed with proposition 2. The only reason it was passed in a lame duck session was because Republicans had to wait to see whether or not Prop 2 would pass on November 6th.

    In essence, the unions were hoisted by their own petard. As for Michigan labor vowing 2014 election year revenge against Snyder and other Republicans, may they have as much success as they did with Proposition 2, and may they spend another $21.5 million of their members dues in the process. It will help encourage members to stop paying dues altogether.

    Neighboring Indiana became a right-to-work state on Feb. 1st. Since the start of the year, the state has welcomed many new employers and added 43,300 jobs, while Michigan has lost 7,300. One example is Caterpillar, which announced shortly after Indiana’s decision that it would move its London, Ontario, plant to Muncie. Indiana. Indiana is not alone. Between 1980 and 2011, total employment in right-to-work states grew by 71%, while employment in non-right-to-work states grew 32%.

    Btw, Governor Snyder has lead Michigan out of the deep dark deficits that were commonplace during the Democratic Governor Jennifer Grandholm’s tenure. In fact, he has created a $457 million surplus here in Michigan. God bless him.

    • Welcome to the Zoo, Brian York.

      I think you may get a few challenges to your assertions, so I hope you stick around for the conversation.

    • Brian,

      I’ve been a Union member, a local union president, and ostracized from a union when a pro-management faction took over, much to the detriment of the workers.

      I see a great deal of concern and effort being put in to defeat unions and take away their ability to influence politics.

      What I would like to see is similar controls put on corporations – that Corporate Boards & CEOs cannot spend Corporate funds on political causes without an affirmative vote of the shareholders.

    • Some things to thank a union for:
      Vacation days
      Sick days
      40 hour work week
      lunch breaks
      bathroom breaks
      no child labor
      safer working conditions
      living wage

      I wouldn’t want to work in a “right to work” state that was going to lower my wages and decrease my benefits. And I wouldn’t vote for any of the conservatives that are part of the “it’s all about me and my money” Republican party.

    • Hi, Brian. Welcome to The Zoo.

      You said “Labor spent $21.5 million promoting it, and yet it lost by a margin of 58% to 42%.” How much money did the Koch Brothers and other anti-union forces spend? And did they tell the truth in their ads?

      • About $24 million.

        No. They likened passing Prop 2 to allowing child molesters into classrooms.

      • That was in reply to Mr. York. To answer your question Wayne, the anti-union forces spent $25.9 mil.
        Also Caterpiller. Inc has been engaged in union busting activites both here in the US and Canada for years.

      • That’s what I think too, nwoldguy, especially since he didn’t bother to engage in conversation. He just dropped his smelly turd and skedaddled.

  7. No Saturday Hate mail-a-palooza today

    I was in the middle of extreme violence as a 7-8-year-old boy in El Salvador in the late 70s as that nation boiled into civil war. I’m good at repressing and forgetting, but this tragedy has brought a lot of that back and I’m having a hard time processing this all.

    I’ve been alternating between unbearable grief and unbearable rage — not just for the precious children who lost their lives yesterday, kids so similar to my own. But also for all the other children in that school who’ll have to carry that trauma for the rest of their lives. Like me, right now, despite being 41 fucking years old.

    All I ask is that you please sign the petition asking President Obama to help start a national conversation about gun control. The status quo is untenable

    • Understand. Agree. Envy.

      “But but but what about the wolves and the bears and the mountain lions and and and all those other things that kill people!”

      (Trying to sound like local Republicans; it ain’t always easy!)

      PS: Ten bucks says that neither John Muir nor Anita Ritenour ever owned or felt the need to ‘pack’ a goddam gun. (If I’m wrong, please wait till next month to collect — after I get my $15 per month SS COLA. Thank you)

    • sigh…that’s just a 2-hour drive from where I live…and I don’t go nearly often enough.

  8. nwmuse got a Christmas card from Mrs WalttheMan. She says:

    “Please wish all the Zoo members a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year! Thank you for all the kind thoughts. I miss Walt every day.. K “

    • Warm thoughts and wishes to Mrs. WtM during this first Christmas without him.


      Happy Holidays to nwm and family.

Comments are closed.