Born in the U.S.A: Right-to-work wrong for workers

As millions of Missourians went to work Wednesday morning, their representatives met in the state house for a hearing. The hearing concerned the possibility of making Missouri the nation’s 25th right-to-work state, following the footsteps of moves made by the legislatures of Indiana and Michigan last year.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) likewise introduced a bill Monday that would turn the entire U.S. into a right-to-work state.

Just what is a right-to-work law, and what happens when a state adopts one? Well it might sound like a right-to-work law would be a good thing – of course as a good Rooseveltian liberal I am kind of partial to the idea that everyone should have the right to a job. But that’s not what right-to-work is all about.

What right-to-work actually does is undermine the right of workers to collectively bargain. Right-to-work isn’t about giving anyone a job. These laws simply mean that a citizen of a right-to-work state is entitled to all of the benefits of being in a union without having to pay any union dues.

Unions under a right-to-work regime are forced to represent non-union workers in collective bargaining contracts and defend non-union workers on the job (thus straining their budgets).

Without required dues, the ability of unions to organize and offer their members better pay and benefits is undermined. It is like not paying for a lawyer and then the state stepping in to compel the lawyer to defend you pro bono at every turn.

You would not be far off in asking what that means for you. Most Americans are unfamiliar with the collective bargaining process as they are with unions, the members of which now make up a historically low percentage of the American workforce. But just because you might not be in a union doesn’t mean this kind of thing won’t affect you in one way or another.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average worker in a right-to-work state makes $1,500 less than a similar worker in a non-right-to-work state. That means less money for workers to spend, which means less money going into the economy and providing the kind of stimulus we need to exit the Great Recession.

Assuming that you’re a Missourian and this bill passes, that means your neighbor can expect to make less money, and with less money spend less on products that you make or you sell. This could lead to you getting laid off or let go – and is just one reason that you, union or not, should be concerned about the future of the labor movement in this country.

The Economic Policy Institute’s research indicated that if just 10 percent more of the American workforce was unionized, it would add $1,479 to the average middle-class household (union or not) each year.

The decline of unions in the last four decades is directly linked to the decline of the postwar middle-class society that organized labor helped forge in the midst of the Great Depression.

Until we recognize that, and until an effort is made to enhance the bargaining power of American workers, we will not have the kind of economy that can produce stable growth and shared prosperity.

If you are a Missourian, please give your state legislators a call and advise them to vote against right-to-work-for-less. The job you save may be your own.

Column by Devin Griggs, opinion editor. Devin serves as vice president of finances for the Murray State College Democrats.