Unions use political process to defend members from attack
By Eric Wolfe
Jennifer Gray, left, and Donchele Soper were among several Local 1245 members campaigning last year to recall anti-union legislators in Wisconsin. In 2012 our union may have to mobilize to fight a ballot measure in California that would undermine our union’s strength and our ability to defend our members’ standard of living.
Everything is connected.
Last year IBEW Local 1245 members traveled to Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio to help other unions fight back against Republican-led assaults on workers’ rights. Now Republican legislators in some states are having second thoughts about continuing their attack on labor.
Take Minnesota. Republicans have majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, and were widely expected to pass “right-to-work” legislation this year. But it hasn’t worked out that way. How come?
Right-to-work laws, as most union members know, forbid union security clauses in union contracts. In other words, a union cannot require employees to pay union dues, even though the union is required by law to represent those same employees.
Unions have a name for people who enjoy the benefits of having a union but skip out on paying their fair share: free riders. And we also have a name for these anti-union laws: right-to-work-for-less.
Supporters often claim that right-to-work laws attract business and improve a state’s economy. But research does not bear this out.
Lonnie Stevans, Professor of Information Technology and Quantitative Methods at Hofstra University, compared the business formation and economic growth of right-to-work states with non-right-to-work states using recent data from the U.S. Small Business Administration. After controlling for several variables, Stevans found that a state’s right-to-work law has no influence on economic growth, no influence on employment, and no influence on business capital formation.
Negative Impact on Wages, Benefits
But Stevans did find one point of influence: having a right-to-work law is correlated with a decrease in wages.
This finding is confirmed by Gordon Lafer of the Economic Policy Institute. His research found that right-to-work laws lower wages for union and non-union workers by an average of $1,500 a year. Right-to-work laws also decrease the likelihood that employees will get health insurance or pensions through their jobs, Lafer’s research shows.
Lower wages have the indirect effect of undermining consumer spending, which in turn threatens economic growth. For every $1 million in wage cuts to workers, $850,000 less is spent in the economy, according to Lafer’s research. And that drop in spending translates into a loss of six jobs.
But corporations are more concerned about their immediate bottom line than the long-term health of the economy. It’s almost human nature: managers don’t like to share power with workers, and top managers prefer to see company revenues go into executive bonuses rather than wages.
Politicians Having Second Thoughts
So what’s going on in Minnesota? Why are Republicans there suddenly having second thoughts about pushing through a right-to-work (for less) law when they have the votes to do so? In a word: it’s about survival.
They saw what happened next door when Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin tried to strip public workers of their collective bargaining rights. Two state senators have already lost their jobs in special elections, thanks to a vigorous recall campaign that was assisted by members of our union, Local 1245.
Other anti-union Wisconsin legislators are being targeted for recall this year. And over one million voters have signed petitions calling for Gov. Walker’s recall, too. A special election is set for June 5.
Similar story in Ohio. Thousands of union members, including a delegation from Local 1245, mounted a huge campaign to repeal a Republican-backed bill that stripped union members of their rights. The repeal effort was wildly successful—over 60% of the voters backed the unions.
What message has this sent to Minnesota legislators who’ve been considering a right-to-work (for less) bill?
“There is a tremendous fear of the political ramifications — it boils down to that, nothing more or less,” Minnesota State Senator Dave Thompson told the New York Times.
Some Republican lawmakers in Michigan wanted to push right-to-work legislation in their state, but Gov. Rick Snyder, also a Republican, wants no part of it. In Utah, where Republicans control the state Legislature, an anti-union proposal to restrict collective bargaining never made its way out of a committee.
Here’s the take-home lesson: everything is connected. What we do matters. We fought back, and the union bashers have been forced to reconsider their attacks.
But the threat is far from over. In California, anti-worker forces have been circulating a ballot measure to restrict the rights of unions to engage in political activity. The measure will likely go to voters in November.
Local 1245 will be providing more information on this threat as election season approaches. We’ve sent small delegations to fight for union rights in other states. The day may soon come when we have to mobilize a large force of Local 1245 members to defend our rights right here in California.