A Smart Strategy to Defeat ‘Right to Work’

by Rand Wilson

rtw

Without aggressive action, the right-to-work tsunami will sweep more states. “Just Cause for All” campaigns should be part of the strategy. Photo: Glenn Schmidt.

Wisconsin is now the 25th state to adopt a so-called “right-to-work” law, which allows workers to benefit from collective bargaining without having to pay for it.

It joins Michigan and Indiana, which both adopted right to work in 2012. Similar initiatives, or variants, are spreading to Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and West Virginia—and the National Right to Work Committee and the American Legislative Exchange Council probably have a well-developed list of additional targets.

Without aggressive action, the right-to-work tsunami will sweep more states. To defeat it, the first step is committing to fight back, rather than resigning ourselves to what some say is inevitable.

Everyone’s Interests

We’ll have to go beyond what we’ve mostly been saying so far, which is that right to work is “unfair” or “wrong.”

That argument certainly works for most union households and many of our community allies. But the real challenge is to convince a much broader public that a strong (and fairly-funded) labor movement is in their interest and worth preserving. Clearly most Americans aren’t yet convinced.

Many unions over the last few years have undertaken important campaigns along these lines. For example, teachers unions have positioned themselves as defenders of quality public education. Refinery workers have struck for public safety.

Nurses and health care unions have fought for safe staffing to improve the quality of care. And most notably, the Service Employees (SEIU) and others have waged the “Fight for $15” for fast food and other low-wage workers.

In its own way, each union is working hard to be a champion of the entire working class. Yet with the exception of SEIU’s Fight for $15, each is essentially focused on the issues of its core constituency at work. This still limits the public’s perception of labor.

Supporters of right to work cynically play on the resentment many workers feel about their declining standard of living. Absent a union contract, the vast majority have few, if any, ways to address it. To most, organizing looks impossible and politics looks broken.

Workers’ understandable frustration is fertile ground for the far right, which promises to improve the business climate and create more jobs by stripping union members of their power.

Thus, when we anticipate right to work’s next targets, the best defense should be a good offense—one that clearly positions labor as a force for the good of all workers.

‘Just Cause for All’

Here’s one approach that would put labor on the offensive: an initiative for a new law providing all workers with due process rights to challenge unjust discipline and discharge, “Just Cause for All.”

Such a law would take aim at the “at-will” employment standard covering most non-union workers in the U.S. At-will employees can be fired for any reason and at any time—without just cause.

While such a major expansion of workers’ rights as Just Cause for All would be unlikely to pass in most state legislatures—Montana did it in 1987, but it’s still the only one—it could become law in states that allow ballot initiatives.

A well-orchestrated attack on the at-will employment standard would force the extreme, anti-worker, and big business interests who back right to work to respond. If nothing else, imagine how competing initiatives would force a debate. On one side, extending due process protections and increased job security to all workers: a real right-to-work bill. On the other side, taking away fair share contributions for collective bargaining.

This strategy isn’t untested. When the Coors beer dynasty backed a right-to-work ballot initiative in Colorado in 2008, labor collected signatures for a counter-initiative, “Allowable Reasons for Employee Discharge or Suspension,” which would have overturned at-will employment. (Labor also supported a proposal that would have provided affordable health insurance to all employees and a measure to allow workers injured on the job to sue for damages in state courts.)

Fearing that the just cause proposal might pass, centrist business people offered a deal. In exchange for labor withdrawing its proposal, they provided financial support and manpower that helped labor defeat right to work in Colorado. (For more on this story, read “The 2008 Defeat of Right to Work in Colorado: Is it the End of Section 14(b)?” Raymond L. Hogler, Labor Law Journal, Spring 2009.)

While it’s unfortunate that the labor initiative didn’t go before Colorado voters, the result was still encouraging—and instructive. By championing the interests of all workers, labor split business and blunted the right-to-work effort.

To win back “fair-share” participation in the three new right-to-work states and stop further attacks, we’ll need well-planned campaigns that include grassroots mobilization, direct action, paid and earned media, and focused electoral work.

Just Cause for All campaigns should be part of the strategy. Even if we lose, campaigns for due process and job security for all will help shift the debate on right to work, leave the labor movement stronger—and make labor and its allies once again the champions of the “99%.”

Rand Wilson is policy and communications director at SEIU Local 888 in Boston.  This Viewpoint is reposted from Labor Notes with permission of the author.

Scott Walker Signs Right to Break Unions Law

by Laura Clawson

Surprising no one, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed an anti-union law Monday that, during his re-election campaign, he’d repeatedly said he wasn’t interested in passing:
In his gubernatorial re-election bid last fall, Walker also downplayed the possibility of such a measure passing.
Walker said in September he was “not supporting it in this (2015) session.”

“We’re not going to do anything with right-to-work,” Walker told The New York Times in October.

Fitzgerald announced he would be introducing the legislation on Feb. 20 and Walker said he would sign it that same day. Continue reading

Wisconsin labor battle continues

First they came for the public sector workers’ unions. But, I wasn’t in the public sector.  So, I did nothing!

Wisconsin Republicans Silence Debate to Advance ‘Right to Work’ Bill
Feb 25, 2015 Kenneth Quinnell    | In The States. AFL-CIO blog.

AFL–CIO

AFL–CIO (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

UPDATE, Feb. 26: The Wisconsin State Senate approved the right to work bill 17-15 late Wednesday night. Thousands of workers, community supporters and others rallied outside the Capitol earlier in the day to protest the bill and later packed the Senate chambers for the floor debate and vote. The bill now goes to the State Assembly for vote likely next week. We’ll bring you more details later today. Continue reading

When Republicans take control of a state

 

While some advocates say there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats.

Illinois Governor Acts to Curb Public Sector Unions

CHICAGO — Gov. Bruce Rauner, the newly elected Republican who has often criticized public sector unions, took his first step toward curbing their power on Monday by announcing an executive order that would bar unions from requiring all state workers to pay the equivalent of dues.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/10/us/illinois-governor-bruce-rauner-acts-to-curb-power-of-public-sector-unions.html?_r=0

Bringing Labor Back:

Labor-management partnerships will not revive the union movement.

By Chris Maisano. Reposted from Jacobin Magazine.

[ed.note- we encourage responses to this piece and the prior post, First Stop the Self Flagellation]

Workers occupy a factory in the 1937 Flint Sit Down Strike. Library of Congeress

Workers occupy a factory in the 1937 Flint Sit Down Strike. Library of Congress

As late as 2008, it was not unreasonable to think that the stars were aligning for a long-awaited revitalization of the US labor movement. The financial crisis focused popular anger on the Wall Street financiers whose speculative activities brought the global economy to the brink of collapse. The election of Barack Obama and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress raised labor’s hopes for the passage of an economic recovery program and long-sought labor law reforms.

And it seemed as if workers themselves were finally willing to take action against the decades-long trend of increasing corporate power and inequality. The occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors plant in Chicago by a militant United Electrical Workers local — an action that drew approving notice from the president-elect and much of the public — electrified labor’s ranks and seemed to echo President Franklin Roosevelt’s support for unionization and collective bargaining during the New Deal.

This appeared to be the most favorable set of circumstances for the US labor movement in decades, and the first significant hope for revitalization since the successful Teamsters strike against UPS in 1997.

It didn’t happen. Labor law reform was sidelined in favor of health care reform, and the Republicans rolled up big electoral wins at all levels in 2010 and 2014. Despite widespread popular anger at the multi-trillion-dollar bank bailouts, the financial sector has come out of the crisis stronger, and corporate profits are at record levels. Economic inequality has continued its upward path.

Fast food and retail workers have shown a new willingness to protest and engage in collective action, and their efforts have spurred minimum-wage increases in a number of states and cities. Still, private-sector unionization continues to move toward total collapse. And in the public sector, the labor movement’s last stronghold, state-level attacks on collective-bargaining rights and anti-union cases in the judicial system have set the stage for a decisive offensive against organized working-class power.

The writing is on the wall: unions as we have known them since the 1930s are in their terminal stage, and likely have only a short time left as a social institution of any major political significance. The private sector is essentially union-free, and public-sector unions don’t have the capacity to defend themselves against legislative and judicial assaults, even in states that are supposedly union strongholds (see Wisconsin and Michigan). Continue reading

Revolving Doors and Education Entrepreneurs

The Selling of Public Services.  By Seth Sandronsky

CCSF2Do failed policy proposals from public education officials enjoy an afterlife when their creators depart Washington for the private sector? This is no academic question. In fact, the career arcs of two former federal policymakers may well have foreshadowed the life-or-death clash over the accreditation of San Francisco City College (CCSF), one of California’s 112 community colleges. The state is home to about 10 percent of America’s 1,100 two-year colleges.

As San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow’s ruling on the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College’s bid to decertify CCSF draws near, the story of Margaret Spellings becomes instructive. Spellings, who was George W. Bush’s second-term Secretary of Education, commissioned a controversial 2006 report called “A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education.”

The report’s language was very much in tune with the pro-business Bush zeitgeist. The commission’s chairman was Charles Miller, a private investor who was joined by Nicholas Donofrio, the executive vice president of IBM Corp., and by James J. Duderstadt, the corporate vice president for Microsoft Corp. Their report predicted disaster unless colleges began protecting their “market share” by preparing  students for the “global marketplace.” Continue reading

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