The Right to Exploit

by Sean Carter

right to work

From the inception of the National Labor Relations Act (otherwise known as the Wagner Act), business interests in the United State have been destroying the rights guaranteed by this legislation. Most important was passing Right-to-Work laws enabled through the passing of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, just twelve years after the ink dried on the Wagner Act in 1935.

Florida enacted the first Right-to Work law in 1943. Since then 23 states have followed suit, most of them in the South and in West. Michigan is a recent addition that is alarming because in a traditional union area.

Here is a list in alphabetical order of those states in the U.S. that are now Right-to-Work:

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming

Proponents of this legislation asserted that these laws would encourage job growth and the economic benefits that went along with job growth. This would prove that “trickle-down” economics worked. The reality is much different. States that went Right-to-Work often used economically damaging tactics such as tax breaks to business owners and relocation to poorer areas to drive wages down.

In my own state of Kansas, that went Right-to-Work in 1958, the manufacturing sector of the state continues to suffer.The southeastern sector of the state, which I come from, saw an evisceration of manufacturing jobs which led to depopulation together with high unemployment, low tax revenue, decrease in quality education, housing, and increase in violent crime. Most recently one of the largest towns in the area lost its hospital.

The following facts give an accurate comparison as to the effects of these laws on those states as compared to states that do not have Right-to-Work laws.

family incomes are $5,971 less per year (12.2%) overall
median household income is $6,658 less per year (11.8%) overall
16.3% – 12.4% persons under 65 more likely to uninsured
53.9% – 57.1% job based insurance coverage
46.8% – 52.6% job based insurance coverage in the private sector
30.3% – 38.8% job based insurance coverage in small businesses ( larger poverty rates 14.8% – 13.1% overall (20.2% – 18.3% in children)
infant mortality rate is 14.2% higher in RTW states
31.3% less spent per pupil in education in RTW states
54.4% higher workplace death rate in RTW states

*statistics sources: Bureau of Labor/Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

States that have Right-to-Work laws have a lower standard of living than those states that have chosen not to adopt these laws. This is regression not progression and must come to an end. Just as there was a movement to take away workers rights and put these socially damaging laws into place, there can be a movement to get rid of these laws and further prevent any other states from enacting them. That movement starts with us, the individual, through solidarity with other individuals that stand for progress. We must be the ripples in the pond of society and do our part to enact change.

Sean Carter is middle/high school and junior college teacher, living in Lawrence, KS. He has spent his educational career as a member of the Kansas National Educational Association (KNEA), and has negotiated in one district. His father spent 43 years as a IBEW contract electrician, and his brother works as a maintenance electrician and is head of the local Sheet Metal union.

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