Max Rust of the Chicago Sun-Times has produced a concise overview of right-to-work laws and their impact on states and workers. In short, the picture is not pretty. In right-to-work states, wages are lower, infant mortality rates are higher, fewer people have health insurance, and the average level of education is lower. Several states, mostly in the South and Southwest, have had these laws in place since the 1940s. More recently, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin have passed such laws.
Right-to-work laws hurt the ability of workers engage in collective bargaining. Yes, they do give a few people the freedom to avoid union dues. Many others, however, have seen hourly wages in these states go down over recent decades. Unions are far from perfect. In fact, today’s Chicago Sun-Times also features a great investigative article on the family of a local Teamsters’ official. Even so, unions enable workers to bargain for better wages and working conditions. If unions are so bad, why do corporations and billionaires participate in groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Club for Growth, and ALEC? If the richest people in American can collaborate to protect their interests, shouldn’t working class and middle class Americans have the same right?
Is a big change coming? Fast food workers struck today in 60 cities. They are calling for a raise from wages as low as $7.25-$8 per hour to $15, a living wage. While the issue most often cited in the media is hourly pay rate, workers are also protesting work schedules that vary in hours per week. Most importantly, they are calling for the right to join together in a union, just as the super rich join together to achieve their interests in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or ALEC.
Is their request for $15 an hour unrealistic? Writing in Daily Kos, Laura Clawson points out that the minimum wage in 1963 was $2 per hour. Adjusted for inflation, that wage now would range between $13.39-$15.27. Over the last 30 years, the poorest working people have worked hard with less security while falling farther behind. Three cheers to the fast food workers for standing up. May many more low wage workers stand up and demand what is right.
Writing in Think Progress, Pat Garofalo reports that Wisconsin legislators are now trying to attack private sector unions in the name of “preventing layoffs.” The plan is called “work-sharing,” and it would allow companies with union workers to cut hours without consulting unions. The only way working people will be safe from such schemes is to vote for politicians who support labor rights; however, they are hard to find these days. It will be interesting to see how Governor Walker reacts if this measure is passed. Who frightens him more, the Koch Brothers or the voters?
All eyes on Wisconsin – again.