In Attention Deficit Disorder America, that quick description of Right to Work sounds right and just. Why should we force people to join a union and pay dues if they don’t wish to? Because it creates a class of entitled freeloaders, that’s why.
Let me explain. If Sue gets hired to work as machinist, driver, teacher, or service worker where Mike, Denzel and Maria are already employed in the same job and are union members, Sue’s wages, benefits, and work responsibilities have been set through extensive negotiations by the union. Sue doesn’t have to haggle over these things by herself in a situation where she has no power. Without the union, it’s just Sue versus The Company, and Sue loses that battle every time. Further, if Sue ever sees a safety issue or has a problem with her boss or other workers, the union provides her with a grievance process and support. Sue doesn’t have to cower in silence or worry about being fired for “complaining”.
In a Right to Sponge state the union is required to provide these services for Sue, but Sue isn’t required to pay for them. Sue can elect to not join the union, not pay the union dues, and still receive all the benefits provided by the union. She gets significant advantages for free by leeching off the work of others.
One would think the Republican party would all over this situation, decrying the 1.6 million workers represented by unions but not members as a low-life entitlement class, people who expect something for nothing. The GOP is supposed to be the party of manly individualists , ladder-ly bootstraps and never-get-something-for-nothing. After all, non-union workers are paid substantially less at $763 per week, while union jobs average $970 per week and are 50% more likely to have employer-sponsored health care and retirement income plans. No one should get those perks for free and no one is forcing folks to pay union dues without their consent. If a person doesn’t want to be a union member they can find employment in an open shop.
But Republicans love moochers that fatten profits and enhance corporate power. So Right to Mooch bills are cropping up everywhere, having passed in Wisconsin and in legislative process in Illinois, Michigan, and several other states. Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin introduced Right to Leech legislation immediately after his election after a campaign where he mentioned such a bill in his platform exactly none times. Right to Bum Off of Others is the stealth bomber in the GOP’s war on the middle class.
Unfortunately that’s the one war Republicans seem capable of winning. Union participation rates are down to 11.1% from 20.1% in 1983, the first year statistics were kept. Amazingly, that corresponds almost exactly to when stagnation of middle class incomes began. There are other factors at play here too, of course, but union pay, benefits and job protections were an undeniable factor in the growth of the middle class from post-WWII to the 1960s. Republican lawmakers sell these bills as necessary for job growth or budget management measures, but there is no evidence of any impact they might have. On the other hand, there is plenty of data on how vital a strong middle class is to the health of our economy. It is time we push back at these attempts to consolidate corporate and political power. As election season begins again, remember to support those who support the middle class and not those who destroy it.
Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Wall Street Journal.