Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls
from: althouse.blogspot.com

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fundamental right

Throughout the United States the National Labor Relations Act is the law of the land.

Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.

This by no means levels the playing field between capital and labor. But it does allow workers to cooperate with each other, just the way owners have always done. Owners have never liked this, so they have spent vast sums on lawyers and lobbyists to fight existing unions and prevent the creation of new ones. One thing union-busting lawyers quickly seized on was the fact that workers were also free not to join unions. At first glance, this appears to be of little import. What rational person would decline the opportunity to vastly strengthen his or her bargaining power?

The lawyers, however, knew that individual greed could in some cases lead a worker to ignore the long-term benefits of union membership. They exploited this greedy, anti-social tendency to change the law in 23 states where organized labor was weak. These states passed "right-to-work" laws which decimated existing unions while discouraging the formation of new unions. Incredible as it may seem, these laws actually force unions to spend money representing workers who choose not to join or pay dues. The union is obliged, for example, to pay attorney costs for a fired non-union employee without any compensation. Even more crazy, an employee who shuns the union, and doesn't pay dues, is permitted to sue the union if he or she is dissatisfied with their representation. This would be like allowing a local hotel to sue a tourism council it refused to join for not promoting its business! Needless to say, RTW states have very few unions left.

So, has the absence of unions affected life in these RTW states? As Sarah Palin might say, you betcha! Lower education scores, Higher poverty and infant mortality rates, higher number of uninsured, lower wages, lower compensation benefits (unemployment and injury), higher workplace death and injury rates... you get the picture. Well maybe work is lousy in these states, but don't they have more jobs? Nope. Nowhere has worse unemployment than the RTW state of Nevada.

Wisconsin, with its proud labor heritage, shocked a lot of people when voters didn't turn out to keep Russ Feingold in D.C., or Republicans out of the State House. Now many in Wisconsin are waking up to the fact that unions make their state a better place. Governor Walker is challenging a fundamental American value in stripping state workers of their full collective bargaining rights. Republicans have already succeeded in making some American workers jealous of unions. Yet many Americans still appreciate unions, and some are now regretting how much power they have lost.


tomzee said...

Looking at the map, I'm struck by how folks that don't know about unions are more likely to be duped inot voting Republican. Thanks for this post Ulysses!

cassporter said...

I moved from Massachusetts to Texas, and let me tell you that right to work for less is terrible. The schools here are a joke!

Cletis L. Stump said...

My dad always called "right to work" "right to starve". My most valued possession is a photo of some union reps with Jojn L. Lewis flanked by Dad and Uncle Willie circa 1931. Hard times create great men and women. The tide is rising, Ulysses.