Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and state Republicans are pushing through a so-called “Right to Work” bill in Wisconsin that is causing quite the stir. The bill is expected to pass the Wisconsin Assembly and land on Governor Walker’s desk by the end of the week.
In the Washington Post, economist Jared Bernstein explains what so-called “Right to Work” laws actually do:
Let’s be very clear about this: RTW does not confer some new right or privilege on those in states that adopt it. It takes away an existing right: the ability of unions to require the beneficiaries of union contracts to pay for their negotiation and enforcement. In anything, the law creates a right to freeload — to reap the significant benefits of union bargaining without paying for them.
Unions bargain for better wages, hours, benefits, and much more for all workers on the job. Most studies suggest that the decline in union membership across the U.S. accounts for one fifth of the increase in income inequality.
In a recent column, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times quotes labor expert Jake Rosenfeld:
“All the focus on labor’s flaws can distract us from the bigger picture,” Rosenfeld writes. “For generations now the labor movement has stood as the most prominent and effective voice for economic justice.”
Kristof points out that there is a direct correlation between union membership and a strong middle class.
So-called “Right to Work” is the best chance Republicans have found to take away the strongest voice for middle class families. Unions not only create better working conditions and environments for workers, but they also advocate for raising the minimum wage, free pre-k for all students, and lower tuition costs. All of that work adds to economic benefits unions bring to working families.
Luckily, here in Minnesota, fierce opposition killed “Right to Work” when it came up two years ago, and with progressive leadership in the Minnesota Senate and the Governor’s office, we don’t need to worry about it making a second appearance.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin does not have that luxury, and middle class families are the ones who are going to be hurt the most by this conservative measure.