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The Truth Behind Right-to-Work-For-Less

by Clyde Weiss  |  February 22, 2012

The corporate interests behind the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) think the way to break the strength of unions is to undermine worker solidarity. That’s why they’re pushing right-to-work-for-less legislation in Arizona and other statehouses across the country. Their biggest success occurred this month in Indiana, which became the 23rd state to adopt the anti-worker measure. Now they’re gunning for workers in Minnesota.

One day after Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the bill into law, two Minnesota state senators announced they, too, would introduce legislation to put a right-to-work-for-less measure before voters in November. If approved, it would change the state’s Constitution so workers who receive the benefits of a union contract (but don’t want to join a union) can keep those benefits without having to pay their fair share for representation.

We call those workers “free riders” because they take, for free, what others are willing to pay for.

Supporters of such legislation argue that it’s only fair to let workers decide if they want to pay dues. The Minnesota lawmakers also contend it will make the state more attractive to companies that want to locate or expand there.

But ALEC, the Mackinac Center and other groups pushing right-to-work-for-less legislation behind the scenes understand that it’s really not about fairness. They simply want to undermine the middle class by breaking the power of workers to stand up for their rights and lowering wages and benefits for everyone across the board – within and outside of a union.

“It’s an assault on the American belief that everyday people deserve decent wages, health care, and to be able to retire with dignity,” AFSCME Council 5 Exec. Dir. Eliot Seide said in a broadcast interview with Esme Murphy, Sunday morning anchor for WCCO-TV in Minnesota.

Seide, also an AFSCME International vice president, called the effort to pass right-to-work-for-less “a straight attack on collective bargaining, on stifling workers’ voices in the workplace, and it’s meant to hurt workers. It’s not meant to improve the lives of workers.”

For proof, Seide noted that Minnesota workers make, on average, $5,500 more than workers in states where the right-to-work-for-less is the law. “We also have lower poverty. We have better education. We have better health care. We have better quality of life.”

For evidence for his claims, check out the websites of AFSCME Council 5 and Council 65.

It’s not just earnings that are hurt by right-to-work-for-less laws. It’s also retirement security. Experts have found that pensions in right-to-work-for-less states were significantly lower – 4.8 percent lower.

That may be OK with corporations and the right-wing lawmakers who do their bidding, but it is not OK for the working middle class. As The New York Times said recently in an editorial, “Voters, unionized or not, should recognize the new “right to work” push for what it is: bad economics and cynical politics.”

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