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“Defending Unions Against The Haters”: Right-To-Work Laws Are Intended To Limit Union Growth

Joining a union is the best investment a worker can make.

Unions need defending, maybe more than ever, because of the attacks they face. The passage of a right-to-work law in Wisconsin and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposal for union-free zones show how distorted the lens is when the focus turns to organized labor.

Right-to-work laws are intended to limit union growth, but advocates never cite political motives or antipathy for working people. Instead, their calls for reducing labor market protections are based on the claim that unions restrain personal liberty and restrict economic development.

Nothing is further from the truth.

The “labor hater,” as Martin Luther King Jr. once called the corporate and political conservatives who mobilize against organized labor, argues that if you reduce unionization, economic prosperity will be unleashed. Yes, but for whom? Restricting union growth has always been bad for workers’ economic and political freedom. The cumulative weight of decades of social science has unquestionably demonstrated that union-bargained contracts provide workers with higher incomes, more and better benefits, and a stronger “voice” in the workplace.

Implementing a statewide right-to-work law in Illinois would be punitive for working men and women. According to a 2013 University of Illinois study that I co-authored, workers would suffer an income loss of 5.7 percent to 7.3 percent. Additionally, fewer workers would have health and retirement benefits, and with workers earning less, poverty would likely rise by 1 percent.

As King warned in the 1960s, after mostly Southern states moved to adopt right-to-work, the losses would be particularly harsh on people of color. Per-hour work incomes are at least $2.49 lower in right-to-work states for African-American, Latino, and Asian workers, compared with their wages in collective bargaining states. With lower earnings, annual state income tax revenues in Illinois would shrink by $1.5 billion.

To be fair, Rauner has not called for a statewide law. So what would the effects of a more limited local jurisdiction approach be on Illinois workers?

The premise of the local zones is that unionization suppresses job growth. But like so many claims for opposing policies that protect workers, the criticism doesn’t hold up.

A look at recent data for the Chicago area suggests that union membership levels have no direct correlation to higher unemployment. The opposite’s true, in fact. Around Chicago in 2013, the county with the fewest union members had the six-county area’s highest unemployment rate.

When you look more broadly, you find that the average unemployment rate for all eastern Illinois counties bordering right-to-work Indiana was 5.7 percent, compared with 7.6 percent for those Indiana counties just across the border. And while right-to-work prophets predict a paradise of unparalleled job creation, in 2014, Illinois added 103,000 jobs (fourth highest in the nation), compared with Indiana’s 89,000.

Union defenders should never suggest that collective bargaining is either the primary or sole driver of job creation; nor should right-to-work supporters argue that limiting union dues is a sure-fire way to put people to work.

What is assured is that the loss of income that would result from a reduction of union members will exacerbate existing income disparities. If just half of Illinois’ counties transitioned into “union free zones,” total employee compensation would drop an estimated $1.2 billion.

It’s also possible that with or without right-to-work, employment could spike in Illinois. For example, the state could take up large-scale hydraulic fracturing. But no matter the reasons that jobs appear, what is important is how the workers are valued.

 

By:Robert Bruno, Professor of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; The National Memo, March 20, 2015

March 23, 2015 Posted by | Illinois, Right To Work Laws, Unions | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Separating Fact From Advocacy”: How The Media Enable The Anti-Worker Movement

NPR Morning Edition aired a report this week that reeked of anti-union bias, and inadvertently promoted the Koch brothers’ agenda to reduce collective bargaining rights, which means smaller wages and benefits.

The report was rife with errors, missing facts, bollixed concepts, and a meaningless comparison used to impeach a union source.

Below I’ll detail the serious problems with reports by Lisa Autry of WKU Public Radio in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but first you should know why this matters to you no matter where you live.

A serious, very well-funded, and thoroughly documented movement to pay workers less and reduce their rights, while increasing the rights of employers, is gaining traction as more states pass laws that harm workers. A host of proposals in Congress would compound this if passed and signed into law.

News organizations help this anti-worker movement, even if they do not mean to, when they get facts wrong, lack balance, provide vagaries instead of telling details, and fail to apply time-tested reporting practices to separate fact from advocacy.

The advocates are sophisticated. They pose as “nonprofit research organizations,” but are better described as ideological marketing agencies.

There’s nothing wrong with marketing ideology, only with not being honest about what you are doing.

These tax-exempt outfits operate on the model of Madison Avenue; reinforcing instincts, hopes, and desire to stir demand for what may not be good for you or be of dubious effectiveness.

Carefully read, their reports are mostly assertions with a sprinkling of cherry-picked facts and projections, which I have found, reviewing them years later, turned out to be wrong.

Midwestern and southern states have been enacting anti-worker laws that take away collective bargaining rights, while forcing unions to represent people who do not share in the costs of collective bargaining and protecting workers in grievance proceedings. Other laws directly reduce compensation, especially pensions, although police and firefighters are generally shielded.

A key part of this strategy is creating the impression that unions are bad for workers. This goes to a problem that Presidents John Adams and James Madison feared would destroy the nation – the rise of a “business aristocracy” that would trick people whose only income was from wages into supporting policies that would be good for the business aristocrats, but bad for workers.

The NPR report was about Kentucky counties that are passing so-called “right to work” laws, a worthy topic for sure.

Early on, reporter Lisa Autry makes this untrue statement:  “Democrats have rejected efforts to allow employees in unionized companies the freedom to choose whether to join a union.”

No law requires workers to join a union under a binding U.S. Supreme Court decision. Congress outlawed the “closed shop” in the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, formally known as the Labor Management Relations Act.

Workers at firms with union contracts are only required to pay dues that cover the costs of representing them in negotiating contracts and grievance procedures.

Russell D. Lewis, the NPR Southern bureau chief who edited Autry’s report, told me he was only vaguely aware of the Taft-Hartley Act and did not recognize her error.

From an economic perspective, what so-called “right to work” laws do is allow workers to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining and contract enforcement without sharing in the costs. This is a form of moral hazard that weakens unions and makes it likely that they will fail because of what economists call the free rider problem: Those who do not share in the costs of negotiating contracts and enforcing them enjoy the same benefits and protections as those who do.

Autry’s NPR report failed to mention a central fact – Kentucky’s highest court ruled in 1965 that cities and counties cannot adopt local collective bargaining laws. In a case that unions brought against Jesse Puckett, mayor of Shelbyville, Kentucky’s highest court ruled (emphasis added):

it is not reasonable to believe that Congress could have intended to [leave to local governments] the determination of policy in such a controversial area as that of union-security agreements. We believe Congress was willing to permit varying policies at the state level, but could not have intended to allow as many local policies as there are local political subdivisions in the nation. It is our conclusion that Congress has pre-empted from cities the field undertaken to be entered by the Shelbyville ordinance.

In reports for her local NPR station, Autry never cited this. She did, however, a report on a politician who told her that equal numbers of people believe a county-level ordinance would be legal or illegal. In another report, on whether counties have the legal authority to pass such laws, she said, “the answer depends on who you ask.”

It took me less than a minute using an Internet search engine to find the 1965 case. It was also cited in a nuanced and balanced January news report in the Louisville Courier-Journal. Even cub reporter Gina Clear of the News-Enterprise in Elizabethtown, KY provided coverage that was balanced and far better informed than Autry’s.

Did Autry fail to report the court decision because of laziness, poor judgment, or anti-union bias? I cannot give you a definitive answer because Autry and Kevin Willis, WKU’s news director, ignored my repeated requests for an interview, passing the buck to Lewis.

Strange, journalists who expect people to return their calls but do not hold themselves to that standard.

My review of several dozen Autry pieces suggests a bias against unions and workers.

Autry tends to quote anti-unionists at length, but paraphrase what union leaders say, though she did one report that explained union perspectives.

She frequently does one-sided reports using language that assumes only anti-union policies have merit, and quotes only anti-union sources. She also did a one-sided report against increasing the minimum wage.

Lewis, the NPR editor, noted that Autry quoted a United Auto Workers local official saying that Alabama and Mississippi, both with so-called “right to work” laws, have “some of the worst education, highest poverty. What happens is that as they reduce the union labor, less and less [sic] people are making a decent wage.”

But Autry followed that quote with a bizarre point to impeach the union official’s remarks: “Actually, since World War II, income and job growth have increased faster in right-to-work states.”

That might be relevant to a story about how Jim Crow laws kept, and still keep, blacks from many well-paying jobs. Or in a story about how taxpayer investments, especially in the Interstate Highways, canals, and electricity, opened the South to building factories after the war.

Autry cited no source. Lewis sent me a report by the Mackinac Center, another libertarian marketing agency.  It is much more nuanced than Autry’s flat statement.

And actually, to invoke Autry’s word, what would be relevant would be current data on household incomes in states with and without laws requiring workers to pay for the benefits they get from any union that represents them.

In 2013 the median household income (half make more, half less) was $49,087 in so-called “right to work” states, but $56,746 in other states. That means in the states with diminished worker rights people have to work a full year plus eight weeks to get what their peers earn in a year.

Autry’s piece and Lewis’s editing seem to violate NPR’s ethics handbook, which says “good editors are also good prosecutors. They test, probe and challenge reporters, always with the goal of making NPR’s stories as good (and therefore as accurate) as possible.”

The handbook also says “attribute everything… When in doubt, err on the side of attributing — that is, make it very clear where we’ve gotten our information (or where the organization we give credit to has gotten its information). Every NPR reporter and editor should be able to immediately identify the source of any facts in our stories — and why we consider them credible. And every reader or listener should know where we got our information.”

In her NPR piece and a number of WKU reports, Autry quotes the Bluegrass Institute, which she describes as “a Kentucky-based think tank that advocates for smaller government.”

With just two employees, it doesn’t have much capacity to think.

What Autry neglected to report was that the Bluegrass Institute is an ad agency for Kochian ideas.  It is also part of a network that is funded by corporate interests closely allied with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which poses as a nonpartisan advocate for smaller government and more federalism, but is funded by corporations opposed to unions, the Koch Brothers, and their confreres. While the network says its members are independent, behind closed doors it operates like an ideological Ikea selling libertarian ideas, The New Yorker magazine reported.

Editor Lewis told me he had no idea about the Bluegrass Institute’s connections.

Lewis also indicated he was not troubled by using the term “right to work,” which is both factually inaccurate and politically loaded. Based on the evidence I call them right-to-work-for-less laws. NPR surely should explain to listeners that an abundance of official data (and economic theory) show that union workers make more than their non-union counterparts.

Autry ended her NPR piece with another falsehood: “Meanwhile, several labor unions — including some from out of state — have filed a federal lawsuit to stop Kentucky’s local right-to-work movement.”

All of the unions represent workers in the county where the lawsuit was filed, a fact anyone who read the lawsuit should know. Irwin “Buddy” Cutler, the lawyer who filed the case, noted that to have standing – the right to sue – the union would have to represent workers in the county where the dispute exists.

Lewis said he did not know that, which explains his failure to ask what strikes me as an obvious question. Beyond that, what purpose did ending on this (false) point serve?

NPR owes listeners a corrective. It also needs to balance its reports and use relevant data. More importantly, all news organizations need to be wary of “think tanks” bearing easy information.

 

By: David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, March 21, 2015

March 23, 2015 Posted by | Journalism, Media, Right To Work Laws | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Remember At The Polls”: No One In Wisconsin Asked To Kill Unions Except Special Interests

It was the question no Republican in Wisconsin could answer.

“What beating hearts are asking you to pass right to work legislation?”

Senator Janet Bewley, a Democrat, put the simple query to the other side of the aisle Tuesday night while the chamber debated a “right to work” bill that will effectively kill private sector unions in the state by ending the requirement that workers pay dues for representation.

The answer, of course, is no one. That much was clear at the state capitol. There were no signs asking to join a union shop but not the union; no bullhorns asking to skirt paying dues.

If there was anyone at Monday’s hearing on the bill who asked lawmakers to pass right to work, their names weren’t mentioned by any of the Republicans. In fact, the only Republican to mention someone’s name was Senator Jerry Petrowski.

“I’m a Ronald Reagan Republican, and like President Reagan I was a union member for many years,” he said before becoming the only member of his party to vote against the bill. Nevertheless, it passed 17-15 and sets Wisconsin up to become the 25th right-to-work state.

This death warrant for unions wasn’t drafted in Wisconsin though. The fingerprints of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing special-interest group, were found all over the bill. Nevertheless, Governor Scott Walker is ready to sign it after dealing unions a mortal wound in 2011 by ending the right to collective bargaining for public employees.

“Walker said that it wasn’t time for this, that it would be a distraction,” said Tom Much, a 58-year-old retiree from the Communications Workers of America. Hundreds of union supporters and Much stood outside the Capitol as snow fell Tuesday afternoon, about an hour before debate over the bill began.

What did Walker think the bill was distracting from though?

“You tell me,” Much said.

It could be the state’s $2.2 billion deficit, often cited by Democrats as they futilely filibustered the bill . More than likely, though, it is Walker’s presidential ambitions that right to work would distract from. So, while much of the talk regarding Walker in the past few days and weeks has revolved around his no-comment status when it comes to President Obama’s religious beliefs, and prior to that his punting on the question of evolution, in Wisconsin, the governor’s about face on the law has gone almost unnoticed by national political reporters.

“Now, he says that he will sign it,” Much said, noting Walker’s intent to approve the right to work bill when it reaches his desk, something the governor always insisted was unlikely to happen. “Seems to me to be a bit of a turnaround.”

Not quite. Walker has avoided talk of making Wisconsin a right to work state—until recently—and has let his Republican allies in the legislature perform most of the heavy lifting regarding the bill.

His fellow Republicans didn’t have much to say during Tuesday’s proceedings, instead letting their votes do the talking. Fitzgerald began by introducing the bill, saying it would be a boon to the state’s economy. Almost all other comments from the GOP came in the form of bickering with Democrat Sen. Chris Larson over the previous day’s hearing, which ended abruptly when Republican Sen. Stephen Nass cited a “credible threat” that the proceedings would be disrupted by protesters. Twenty-five minutes before the scheduled end of the hearing, Nass called it quits, fueling anger among some in the crowd who had waited hours for their chance to speak.

“Are we afraid of what the public is going to say?” Larson said Tuesday night in arguing for a failed attempt to push the bill back to committee. “Maybe if we go back there someone will show up who’s not from a right wing think tank to speak for (right to work). I know I was on the edge of my seat waiting for that to happen.”

Larson was likely referring to James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation, who testified in support of the bill on Monday and has been extolling the virtues of right to work for the conservative think tank in op-eds at National Review. Larson noted that, in eight hour’s worth of testimony, more than 1,700 voiced their opposition to right to work, while just 25 expressed support for the bill, including Sherk.

This was the backbone of the Democratic argument against Walker’s policies Tuesday night: they represent special interests, not the people. Walker and his allies would likely reply that groups like ALEC, the Heritage Foundation, and those represented by the Kochs have just as much a right as any to have their voices heard as anyone else, but that they might lack the “beating hearts” that Bewley asked about.

“At issue here is the simple matter of individual freedom,” Fitzgerald argued in introducing the bill.

Who those individuals are—the corporate or manufacturing interests who backed Wisconsin’s right to work bill, or the men outside in hard hats and Carhart jackets who voted for union representation—is up for debate. But it’s a back-and-forth that Walker has so far stayed out of. His job is simply to sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

That will likely happen soon: Republicans have a 63-36 majority in the state assembly, where the bill is headed next week. If it does and right to work becomes law as quickly as everyone anticipates, the distraction to Walker’s increasing presidential hopes will be minimal. But a few people won’t forget what happened Tuesday. Among them, Tom Much. Watching through the snowflakes as his fellow union members had what will likely be their last and loudest stand, Much held a sign, aimed at the Capitol steps.

“Remember at the polls.”

 

By: Justin Glawe, The Daily Beast, February 26, 2015

March 2, 2015 Posted by | Right To Work Laws, Scott Walker, Wisconsin Legislature | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“ALEC Cookie Cutter Legislation”: Wisconsin Anti-Union Bill Is ‘Word For Word’ From Rightwing Lobbyist Group

Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin who is considering a Republican presidential run, has promised to sign into law an anti-union bill targeted at the state’s private sector workers that is an almost verbatim copy of model legislation devised by an ultra-rightwing network of corporate lobbyists.

On Friday, Walker dropped his earlier opposition to a so-called “right to work” bill, which he had described as a “distraction”, signalling that he would sign it into law should it succeed in passing the Wisconsin legislature. Republican members are rushing through the provision, which would strip private sector unions of much of their fee-collecting and bargaining powers.

On Monday, the bill cleared a committee of the state senate. A vote of the full chamber is slated for later this week, and of the assembly early next month.

The resumption of union battles in Walker’s home state comes at an awkward time for the probable 2016 candidate, as he seeks to shift attention away from Wisconsin and towards a national political platform. On Thursday he will speak at the high-profile Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, where he will seek to press home his recent meteoric rise from a relatively obscure midwest executive to a leading contender among top Republicans.

It has now been disclosed that the Wisconsin 2015 right to work bill is a virtual carbon copy of a model bill framed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec). The council acts as a form of dating agency between major US corporations and state-level Republican lawmakers, bringing them together to frame new legislation favorable to big business interests.

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), which monitors the activities of Alec, has compared the Alec model bill and the new Wisconsin proposal and found them to be nearly identical.

“This bill is word for word from the Alec playbook, and that’s no surprise as the Wisconsin legislature is dominated by Alec members,” said the CMD’s general counsel, Brendan Fischer.

Walker too has close ties to Alec. He actively supported several Alec bills between 1993 and 2002, when he was a member of the Wisconsin assembly. On Sunday Alec posted to its Twitter feed a photograph of Walker with the Alec chief executive, Lisa Nelson, in which she said: “Great to be with Alec alumni @ScottWalker”.

The governor is no stranger to fighting unions. His current ascendancy is in part due to the national name recognition he gained when taking on public sector unions at the start of his first term in office, leading to headline-grabbling mass demonstrations.

To some extent, a renewal of such battles could play to his favour among the hardcore of rightwing Republicans who tend to determine the outcome of the party’s primary elections. On the other hand, any suggestion that Walker gave his backing to cookie-cutter legislation devised by a corporate lobbying group could hand the Democratic party valuable ammunition should Walker win the nomination and go on to face a general election.

He has already provided his opponents with considerable material for potential attack ads. In a recent trip to London to burnish his foreign policy credentials, he dodged a question about whether he believed in evolution. In December he got his “Mazel tovs” confused when he signed a letter to a Jewish constituent: “Thank you again and Molotov.”

The brewing union confrontation comes as Walker is increasing the pace of his exploratory activities around a 2016 campaign. The son of a preacher, he has been wooing evangelical Christian conservatives who are a key constituency in the opening caucuses of the presidential election in Iowa.

He has also stepped up meetings with prominent Republican donors.

The Wisconsin right to work bill is just one part of a nationwide push by Alec to undermine union power and rein in minimum wage levels. Twenty-four states currently have right to work laws and a rash of state legislatures are taking up the issue, partly under Alec’s encouragement.

 

By: Ed Pilkington, The Guardian, February 23, 2015

February 28, 2015 Posted by | ALEC, Right To Work Laws, Scott Walker | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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