Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., July 30, 31 or Aug. 1
Rauner says that Right-To-Work (RTW) – which means that workers in unionized workplaces don't have to join their union or pay their share of the costs of bargaining for wages, hours and working conditions – would strengthen Illinois’ economy and raise citizens’ standard of living.
“Rauner and other anti-union politicians claim that, if weaker unions lead to lower wages, this just makes Illinois more attractive to business and investment,” said author Richard C. Longworth, a researcher at the Council on Global Affairs in Chicago. “Maybe so, but they can't argue that it's good for the state's workers.”
Half of all U.S. states have RTW laws, but that’s one of many factors in their economies, including infrastructure, location, natural resources and education systems. Plus, those state economies range from good to lousy. Apart from their overall economic shape, RTW states’ wages are lower, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
“The Congressional Research Service concluded in a 2012 report that states permitting ‘fair-share’ or ‘union-security’ provisions showed sharply higher median wages: $50,867, compared with $43,641 in Right-To-Work states, a 16.5 percent differential,” said University of Illinois labor education professor Roger Bybee.
Conversely, the 12 states with the highest wages, including Illinois, are all non-RTW states. Of the 12 states with the lowest wages, eight — including Indiana and Iowa — are RTW states.
Further, six of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates are RTW states: Nebraska, North Dakota, Utah, Iowa, South Dakota and Idaho. Also, business groups often talk about “business friendly” states, which include some RTW states, but such lists – such as Forbes magazine’s – also include states such as Alaska, Montana, New Hampshire and Washington, which haven’t prohibited unions from recovering their costs from those who benefit from their resources.
Now, it’s true that unions affect business; organized workplaces agree to pay more to employees. That arguably takes money from companies’ revenues or executive compensation. It’s also true that unions affect politics, because collective political action – whether campaign contributions, phone banks or canvassing – is a small balance against the monetary might of billionaires.
“The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation bills itself on its website as ‘Defending workers’ rights since 1968’,” wrote the late columnist Judith Gorman. “Exactly which rights are they defending? Not the right to organize. Not the right to bargain collectively for wages and benefits. Not the right to file grievances, nor the right to seek recourse for unfair termination, nor the right to demand a safe and healthy work environment, nor the right to be compensated for on-the-job injuries.
“So what rights are they defending?” she added. “The right to work longer hours for less money with no benefits and no job security. ‘Right to Work’ only defends the rights of employers.”
So attacking unions’ ability to collect fees to meet their expenses is not about economics or standards of living, but about politics and power.
In Illinois, the “empowerment zone” scheme would weaken all unions and, ultimately, all workers.
RTW proponents argue that people shouldn’t have to fund an organization they disagree with just to provide for their family. Would they also suggest not paying electric bills to monopoly power companies that want to put transmission lines through their areas, or withhold taxes that help send youngsters to fight in overseas wars?
Indeed, would such a “something for nothing” climate tempt struggling workers to opt out? Would “something for nothing” ordinances extend to hotels, Moose lodges, tollways, etc.?
A Wisconsin woman married to a Steamfitter defended the logic of having those who benefit from union negotiations contribute to expenditures.
“Fees for services are a norm in our society,” Jennifer Hall testified to a Wisconsin legislative committee. “If you want the services of a gym club, a country club, or even the Boy Scouts, you have to pay a fee. So why would you stop unions from doing this? Did you really think hurting unions and pushing down wages would be good for the state?”
Longworth scoffed at Rauner’s claim of empowerment for anything other than power and politics.
“Any governor who claims that Right-To-Work legislation will improve a state's economy is ignoring history and the facts,” he said. “RTW has nothing to do with a state's economy and everything to do with breaking unions.”
[PICTURED: Infographic from the National Education Association.]