The Rachel Maddow Show (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yesterday on FOX News, I saw Megyn Kelly reporting a story about 13 Chrysler workers who were fired for drinking alcohol while at a local park during their lunch hour. Just another typical anti-union story on FOX complete with Megyn’s grimaces punctuating the story. Later in the day on Rachel Maddow‘s show on MSNBC, I discovered why FOX had made such a big deal of the Chrysler story. The state legislators in Michigan that day had rushed into law a measure to make Michigan a right-to-work state. Governor Rick Synder is expected to sign the law today. No prior notice of the proposed law had been given and no testimony solicited from the public.
Color logo of the National Labor Relations Board, an independent agency of the United States federal government. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As union membership in the US has declined, so have the fortunes of the middle class. And a vibrant middle class is the measure of how well democracy is functioning. As US Supreme Court Associate Justice (1916-1939) Louis Brandeis said, you can have democracy or you can have great concentrations of wealth, but not both at the same time. I cannot prove that unions are good for the middle class and democracy, but there is empirical evidence that it is true. Rather than argue about it until our democracy is moribund, I think that we should act to increase union membership by any and all reasonable means and worry about the finer points later.
Enact card check to make union organizing easier. Repeal Taft-Hartley and encourage the states to recognize public employee unions. Repeal right to work laws. Enforce the laws already on the books to require employers to bargain in good faith and fully fund the NLRB, National Labor Relations Board. The time to act is now while we still can. The GOP is doing everything in their power to destroy all things union. In fact, if there is anything you wish to see damaged or destroyed, just put a union label on it.
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The phrase, right to work, means that workers need not join unions if one is available to them. Employers like states that have right to work laws because they have more flexibility to assign duties to workers, and in general workers receive less in wages and benefits. Workers like right to work since they are not compelled to join a union to have a job and they are not compelled to pay union dues, reducing their take-home pay further.
The courts have ruled that Constitutional protections including the Bill of Rights do not apply in the workplace. The only protections that workers have while working on the job come from government regulations by the EPA and OSHA and union contract provisions. Some or most employers will tell you that unions and government regulation cost jobs, but then they say that about everything that might reduce profits.
If an unemployed worker is desperate for a job, he/she may be willing to accept dangerous working conditions and live in an unhealthy environment. The rest of us will pay a price for workers injured on the job and made sick by the environment. The price will be higher health care costs for society and a less productive workforce. A strong union and robust enforcement of government regulations by the EPA and OSHA are really the only protections workers have. One person by him/herself is no match for the economic and political might of big business. Most of us cannot afford to sue and then wait years for possible justice. One could quit, but jobs may be scarce and one employer frequently no better than another. Competitive wages means no higher than the industry norm.
Meyer Levin was a newspaper reporter in Chicago. His best known book is Compulsion about the Leopold-Loeb murder trial. He wrote another book, Citizens, about the steel industry when it was flourishing in the Chicago metropolitan area during the 1930s. He wrote about the efforts of workers to form unions and how the mill owners used the police and private security forces to break strikes and union efforts to organize.
Working in the steel mills was dangerous work that could cost a man an arm or a leg or his life. Agents of the owners usually offered the injured or his widow $100-250.00 in compensation for the loss. Even in the 1930s, that money didn’t go far. In his book, Dreams from My father, Barack Obama wrote about what that part of the Chicago area is like now that the steel industry has largely moved on. I suggest that you read Citizens and then the Obama book for a before and after picture of how we treat workers and the unemployed. It has changed little if at all.