“Fighting Right to Work” Summit prepares unions for battle
There’s absolutely nothing right about so-called “Right to Work.” It’s dangerous, it’s anti-union, and it has the potential to be cataclysmic for the middle class.
Right to Work is a deceptively named policy idea that has been carefully crafted and cultivated by a powerful group of CEOs and their highly-paid lobbyists. Simply put, Right to Work laws swiftly do away with union security agreements, more commonly referred to as closed shops, or union shops. While proponents of Right to Work like to claim that these laws are about so-called “worker freedom,” we know the real truth — Right to Work is designed to dismantle unions, slash wages, eliminate workplace protections and devastate the middle class – enabling ultra-wealthy CEOs and corporations to get even richer at the expense of working families.
Currently, 28 states already have Right to Work laws on the books. Not surprisingly, those states have lower rates of union membership – but they also have lower wages, fewer benefits, higher workplace mortality rates and higher poverty rates. That’s because unions set the standard for the middle class, and when they are weakened, all workers pay the price.
Up until recently, Right to Work proponents have been enacting these policies state-by-state. But now, they’ve broadened their scope, and are seeking to make Right to Work the law of the land. With a case pending in the US Supreme Court that could do away with union security agreements in the public sector, and legislation in Congress that could do the same in the private sector, there’s a strong chance that closed shops will soon be a thing of the past.
Time For Action
With these very real threats on the horizon, each and every union must immediately begin preparing to face Right to Work head-on. Local 1245 knows that the best defense is a good offense, which is why staff organizers Fred Ross and Eileen Purcell reached out to the California Labor Federation earlier this year, urging them to bring together unions big and small to start strategizing and planning for the future.
The Labor Federation quickly organized a day-long summit, and invited unions from California as well as several neighboring states to join. What began as a small gathering quickly grew into a massive conference of over 800 union representatives from five different states, all anxious to learn and share ideas and best practices that will enable them to protect and build up the Labor Movement and the middle class.
The action-packed convening took place in Los Angeles in late June. While most other unions sent just a handful of staff or a few leaders, IBEW Local 1245 dispatched a large delegation of 10 rank-and-file members from several different public sector properties, accompanied by four union staffers.
Survive and Thrive
The summit kicked off with an eye-opening plenary session that detailed the growing threats to unions. The overview was both sobering and motivating.
“I was shocked to hear what the actual effects are to those who have had their state governments force Right to Work policies on them,” said 17-year IBEW 1245 member Karri Daves, who works at Modesto Irrigation District.
“The anti-union forces are organized, well-resourced and focused – we need to be proactive and fight back, educating our co-workers about the importance of the Union,” said Local 1245 member Bill Stockman from the City of Vallejo.
The first half of the summit was filled with presentations from union leaders who are already organizing in environments without union security agreements. Despite the overwhelming challenges, these unions are still growing and fighting for their members. They shared their very inspiring success stories, proving that unions can persevere and even flourish in a Right to Work environment, but it takes a lot of hard work, and a well-executed plan.
In the afternoon, the summit attendees chose between eight fascinating and engaging workshops, with topics ranging from the use of technology in organizing, to bargaining, to messaging and leadership recruitment. Staff Organizer Fred Ross, who helped to coordinate the Summit, served as a panelist at the leader recruitment and training workshop, where he discussed Local 1245’s innovative Organizing Steward program.
All of the workshops highlighted best practices from unions that are using cutting-edge tactics to grow power in an otherwise hostile, anti-worker environment. Each and every presenter laid out his or her own ideas to build a new Labor Movement that can survive and thrive, with or without union security agreements.
Local 1245 Organizing Steward Serena Moss, who works at SMUD, was particularly struck by the aspect of messaging. She observed that the words we choose can make a huge difference in our ability to help both members and others understand the importance of keeping unions strong.
“We need to stop using [our opponent’s] language – ‘Right to Work’. We have to come up with something that more accurately describes what they’re trying to do to the working class … and that’s still catchy,” said Moss.
Fighting Right to Work
The delegation from Local 1245 left the summit with the understanding that there’s a lot of work ahead, and it won’t be easy, but they are fully committed to doing whatever it takes – and that starts with educating their co-workers every chance they get.
“[I’m feeling] overwhelmed with all the knowledge that was presented and the tasks we have before us,” Daves said a few days after returning from the conference. “But I’ve already had opportunities to talk to our members about what I learned.”
“I learned how important it is for us to get all members on board, so we don’t lose what we have negotiated for years,” said 27-year member Denise Miller, who also works at MID. “I plan to let every member know the importance of fighting Right to Work.”
“I understand the importance of our organizing committee members having one-on-one conversations with each of their co-workers about the union difference and the Right to Work threat,” said Stockman. “[We need] special focus on our younger members who don’t understand fully the protection and voice unionization provides.”
“I plan to once again explain to others in my shop how beneficial it is to stay intact and not to become fragmented,” said 16-year IBEW 1245 member Tom Flanders from Sacramento Regional Transit.
To learn more and get involved in the fight against Right to Work, contact the IBEW 1245 Organizing team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Rebecca Band, IBEW 1245 Communications Director