Hey, GOP: How’s That Union-busting Thing Working Out for You?

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

The people who want to break the back of the labor movement call the legislation they’re pushing a “right-to-work” law. They’re so cute, those Right-wingicans. Stuff enough money in their campaign stash and they’ll call a turd an orchid – and try to pass a law to make you call it that, too.

I like to call things what they are, so to me RTW laws are union killers. They give private sector workers the right to opt out of a union, without requiring them to give up the wages and benefits the union has negotiated on their behalf. Sweet, huh? Why would anyone pay dues to a union that takes care of them without requiring them to actually join?

That’s the point. Kill the union shop and, over time, you kill the union. Long-time members have a sense of loyalty and obligation. But as they retire or die, in come new workers who don’t understand what the relationship between labor and management is really like when there’s no union on the scene to make the bosses play fair.

Some 22 states, mostly in the South, already had union-killing laws on the books when the Tea Party scared the bejabbers out of Republican governors newly elected in 2010. Now at least 14 more states have seen union-killing bills filed, with mixed results.

Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker didn’t file a mere right to work bill; he went full bore and filed legislation he said was meant to save the state’s budget. One part of it allows workers to opt out of public sector unions; another strips public unions of their power to bargain collectively for the things normally on the table – wages, working conditions, health insurance, that sort of thing.

A state court has put a hold on implementing that law, based on charges that the way it was voted violates the state’s open meetings law. It’s not clear whether the governor and Republican legislative leaders can simply call for a new vote, or whether the process has to begin again.

Faced with a series of recall elections in July, the outcome of which is likely to change the balance of power in the legislature, Walker is trying to get his “budget rescue” bill, along with a number of others, passed by the end of June.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch has vetoed the legislature’s union-killing bill, issuing a strong statement to explain his veto.

States should not interfere with the rights of businesses and their employees to freely negotiate contracts. That is unless there is a compelling public interest, and there is no compelling public interest in passing this legislation. There is no evidence that this legislation will offer any benefits to New Hampshire’s economy or workers.

In the veto statement, Lynch pointed out that New Hampshire’s 5.2 percent unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the country, the state has one of the highest median incomes, and its economy is stronger than most “right-to-work” states. He added,

In states with a right-to-work law, workers on average have a lower standard of living, bringing home less in their paychecks and going without health insurance more frequently.

Republican legislators plan to attempt a veto override May 25, but even they seem to doubt there are enough votes for that.

Elsewhere, Think Progress reports, at least three other states have seen union-killing bills filed that seem to be going nowhere:

In Indiana, House Democrats took a page from the playbook of their Wisconsin colleagues and fled the state to prevent the passage of a right-to-work bill. Shortly after the Democrats left and thousands of protesters mobilized against the legislation, the right-to-work bill was withdrawn.

Despite a strong push by newly elected Gov. Paul LePage (R), Maine has thus far failed to move forward with the legislation. “We’ve got a budget to concentrate on,” said Sen. Christopher Rector, a Republican who was dismissive of the state’s right-to-work bills.

In Missouri, Senate Majority Leader Rob Mayer (R) stressed the “need to be bold about this new agenda” and pushed for right-to-work laws — which had been on the state’s “back-burner since 1978″ — immediately after being elected. Yet when the bill came up for debate in the Senate, it was shelved a mere three hours later, as it became clear that both Democrats and Republicans would filibuster it.

Newspaper and TV commenters seem to think the right-wing disdain for labor unions has to do with unions’ political clout, and they’re half right. The other half of the equation is that unions are the only hope working class people have to attain middle-class living standards. Corporate capitalists want an impotent worker pool on whose backs they can maximize profits, and their own pay and bonuses.

The fallacy here is that people who have to scrape to pay their bills don’t have the money to buy what the corporate capitalists want to sell. And that, more than anything, is what’s behind the country’s current economic woes.

Labor unions, and the people who support them, may have Wisconsin’s Scott Walker to thank for the sinking trend in union-killing legislation. The more he and his cohort overreach, the more working people get it that they need to stick together and fight for their economic lives.

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