WASHINGTON-Republicans in Congress introduced a national Right to Work bill in Congress yesterday which threatens to decimates the American Labor movement.
Republicans Steve King of Iowa and Joe “You lie” Wilson of South Carolina are co-sponsoring the bill. Both have had reputations as extremely conservative for years.
Only King and Wilson are sponsoring the bill for now, which is a good sign. The likelihood of a bill’s passage is strengthened by the number of Members who agree to co-sponsor the bill. In addition, there is no Senate sponsor yet. It’s unclear whether it will pass.
In a best-case scenario, the bill will get buried in committee and won’t receive a hearing. By the end of the current session of Congress in January 2019, it will die a quiet death.
Unfortunately, Right to Work laws have spread in recent years despite the fact that Right to Work states have lower wages.
In a company where a union is in place, all employees receive the benefits a union can extract due to its leverage from collective bargaining for the group. Under Right to Work laws, employees can easily opt-out of the union, thereby contributing to a “free rider problem”.
Kentucky became a Right to Work state in January at warp speed. Because Republicans also control the Governorship and both chambers of the legislature in Missouri and New Hampshire are also feared to fall this year as well.
During the campaign, Trump praised Right to Work laws. But he recently met with Building Trade union leaders in the Oval Office who might be able to soften his position. However, they would likely support his notion of building a wall on the Mexican border.
Even if a national Right to Work law doesn’t pass, Trump will pursue anti-worker agenda including blocking the Fight for 15 movement, paid sick days, and defunding the Department of Labor. His appointees will likely allow companies to ignore existing labor laws with impunity. In addition, his Supreme Court nominee if confirmed is likely to rule against the existence of public sector unions, among other things.
Contracts bargained by unions led to a general increase in living standards. Many point to their decline as part of the reason inequality has increased.
Unions funnel millions of dollars and volunteers into Democratic campaigns and causes. The AFL-CIO was a crucial leader in the coalition backing the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank in President Obama’s first term. In 1963, the United Auto Workers union was a key backer of the March on Washington. The SEIU is the main funder of the Fight for 15 movement.
How Did We Get Here?
In their heyday, many unions grew comfortable when nearly 1/3 of the American workforce was unionized at their peak. But being at one’s peak leads to a level of hubris that can be hard to shake until the chips are down. Unions have been in a slow decline for 40 years. New methods of organizing have been embraced in recent years to replace the union members lost when their jobs were outsourced with varying degrees of success.
When President Obama took office with strong labor support, the Right fought back. Charles and David Koch, oil tycoons from Kansas, poured money into the Tea Party through Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Council (ALEC) an association of state legislators united in decimating social and economic progress. Many of their candidates won in the 2010 midterm elections which wiped out Democratic majorities both on the national and state level. Along with the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Chamber of Commerce, the Kochs have been pushing an anti-worker agenda successfully despite unions’ best efforts.
Under current labor law, unions are bound by an enormous amount of red tape in terms of the activities they can engage in both in the workplace and politically. The process by which a workplace can become unionized is extremely difficult.
In order to survive, unions and their allies have to fight with everything they have and more in new and creative ways, including civil disobedience. The fact that every progressive cause is under siege won’t make it any easier.
The idea of General Strike on February 17th by which workers in a variety industries protest instead of working to stop Trump’s policies is starting to gain momentum.