Thursday, December 13, 2012

The So-Called "Right to Work"

Back in the early 1930s, the New Deal’s National Industry Recovery Act (NIRA) for the first time in American history guaranteed labor the right of collective bargaining, and thus began the burgeoning of the middle class. Nothing did more to build and strengthen the American Dream and allow people the mobility of leaving poverty and earning a living wage.

These “right to work” laws, with their lovely rhetoric, have the potential of leading employees back to those pre-New Deal days and into poverty. This cannot be overstated. The right to work act puts power back in the employers’ hands as far as having the right to determine whether people will be able to work for a living wage or toil for sustenance. Without labor unions, there can be no collective bargaining; there can be no one to stand up for the rights of workers. Everyone is in danger of becoming a “Walmart employee,” a situation whereby the employees do not earn a living wage despite working full time. And the rest of us pay for the benefits the employer eschews, such as health care.

Even today, teachers do not earn a professional salary despite the necessity of a master’s degree for certification in many states. Teachers who earn a decent salary do so because of the fight of teachers’ unions for their members. What is most instructive however is that so many people who never belonged to a union benefitted from the work of the unions in fighting for decent salaries. Many however are still struggling to make ends meet. The result is reflected in a shortage of teachers in some areas, the dearth of male teachers in a profession that treats its people like unskilled labor, and our children not getting the education they need. This situation can only be exacerbated by right to work laws. This is only one example of what the future holds in states with right to work laws.

Will these laws attract new companies? Who knows? And if they do, what sort of companies will they be, and how will they benefit the community and the state? I suspect the results of these new laws will not reflect a better future for the state any more than they do the workers. Weren’t we told many years ago about how casino would enrich the states they came to? Weren’t we told that profits would be poured into the educational systems of those states? Has anyone noticed that the only people to profit from gambling casinos are the owners of the casinos? And so with these new so-called “right to work” laws, only the employers will benefit. Certainly not the workers. And that means the country loses.

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