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News :: Labor
The Concept of Work for Less
by richard myers
21 Oct 2008
Work For Less laws (otherwise known as "Right To Work") are on the march, with backers attempting to add Colorado as their twenty-third state. Coalitions of labor, business, and religious organizations are fighting the onslaught, but they could use some help.
(and what you can do to help)
No one will be shocked that we're witnessing deception in politics. Someone long ago realized if you have an unpopular cause, you call it the opposite of what it is. We've endured that legacy ever since.
A relentless, decades-long attack on worker organizations
Union pay-scale tends to bring up all wages in a given area. If one company pays better, workers may be tempted to leave their non-union jobs to get the higher pay. Business owners know this, and some have united in the cause of destroying unions. They have one overriding goal: higher profits for business owners and investors, accomplished by reducing labor costs.
Critics of the decades-old campaign to drive down wages observe that “while the National Right to Work Committee purports to engage in grass-roots lobbying on behalf of the 'little guy', [it] was formed by a group of southern businessmen with the express purpose of fighting unions... they 'added a few workers for the purpose of public relations.' ... The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation has received millions of dollars in grants from foundations controlled by major U.S. Industrialists...” [from Wikipedia]
In their relentless drive toward lower wages, less safe working conditions, and diminished political power for working people throughout America, they have harnessed the deception model of politicking. But this campaign isn't just deceptive; it is dishonest, opportunistic, and brutally relentless.
So-called “right to work” laws have been allowed since Taft-Hartley was passed by Congress in 1947. The percentage of unionized workers has dropped steadily ever since. From a high of thirty-five percent organized during the 1950s, less than ten percent of the workforce is organized today. If the U.S. is to maintain a working class with some semblance of dignity and decent pay, stopping and ultimately reversing this campaign is imperative.
Vilification plays a significant role in the attempt to drive out unions. The National “Right to Work” Foundation pushes its agenda with outrageously false push-poll questions such as, “do you think union violence should continue to enjoy legal immunity under federal law...?” They claim that in the upcoming election, “Big Labor will spend over one billion dollars in forced union dues this year attempting to buy control of Congress and the White House.” They don't mention that in the 2004 election cycle, corporate campaign contributions dwarfed organized labor's campaign contributions by twenty-five to one.
The work for less people are happy to lie or break any law in order to accomplish their ultimate goal of universally lower wages for workers. The work for less organizations guarantee anonymity to their donors, allowing wealthy corporate executives to carry out a form of class warfare, shielded by a wall of secrecy. The backers of Amendment 47 in Colorado -- the current battleground state -- have violated campaign finance laws by refusing to disclose their donor list. Even after nearly ten thousand dollars in fines, they're still protecting contributors.
Amendment 47 backers seek to change the Colorado Constitution, potentially adding a twenty-third state to their list of conquests. The proponents of Amendment 47 almost universally claim that they're not against unions, and portray themselves as champions of workers' rights. But in Colorado, work for less spokesperson Jake Jabs, the area's foremost purveyor of imported furniture, let his motivation slip when he told reporters that he wanted to “hurt the pocketbooks of the unions." [reported in Westword]
By falsely characterizing the legal situation in their local campaigns, the backers of Amendment 47 are able to generate outrage among working people that might carry them to success in their effort to change the constitution. Amendment 47 has two ostensible goals: making union membership “voluntary,” and eliminating the requirement that workers support their union financially. Their pitch to working people follows the formula, "don't let powerful union bosses force you to join a union..." But this is a sham; for more than half a century, federal law has guaranteed that no one can be forced to join a union against their will.
Little do Amendment 47 proponents care that media in Colorado have called them on their false claims; they are intent upon slamming the amendment through with an emotional wave of propaganda repeated by many voices. It is quite a trick, selling to workers something that they already possess.
Union benefits and services under fire
There are two types of benefits that unions typically provide to working people in the bargaining unit. The first is direct services, such as negotiating improved wages, hours, and working conditions. Unions maintain safety committees that insure a safe working environment. They may negotiate or provide training, or even G.E.D. and college classes.
The second type of benefit is political advocacy -- for more than a century mainstream unions have sought to aid their political allies, and punish their political enemies. Under Beck Rights, however, no one in the bargaining unit is required to contribute to a political campaign that they do not support.
Under existing law, Colorado workers benefiting from union activities can be assessed a nominal fee to cover that first type of service. Amendment 47 would criminalize collection of these fees, yet would leave intact the federally mandated requirement that unions must provide such services to non-members.
It is as if insurance companies were compelled to provide auto insurance to anyone who walked through the door, but a powerful “right to be insured” organization guaranteed that no one had to pay for that insurance. If insurance policy payments were voluntary, insurance companies would go out of business in a matter of months.
As more and more work for less bills pass, union members will be increasingly bombarded with propaganda claiming they get nothing for their union dues and should stop contributing. Because of the duty to represent non-members, this agenda threatens union finances over and above the loss of membership.
Underlying all of these attacks is the false claim that workers can be forced to join unions. The deception is so blatant that even as their advocates lie and propagandize in Colorado, the work for less crowd admit the truth on their national website:
"Question: Can I be required to be a union member or pay dues to a union?
Answer: You may not be required to be a union member. But, if you do not work in a Right to Work state, you may be required to pay union fees... full union membership cannot lawfully be required."
Why work for less succeeds
The work for less campaign relies upon its wolf-in-sheep's appearance as a rights organization. Some of its targets have sought to re-badge this juggernaut as “right to work for less.” In my view this effort is laudable, but ineffective. The moment we tolerate their use of the word “right” without feeling a knee-jerk impulse to challenge it, we buy in to their frame of reference, and we facilitate their dishonest emotional appeal.
To set the record straight, we should challenge every use of the expression “right to work,” in the media and among our allies, as inaccurate and biased. In our own articles and letters, we should use the expression "right to work" only when necessary to identify the struggle we're referring to (and then, always in quotations). We should thenceforth call it what it is: not a right; not a questionable or tarnished right; but rather, a systematic and relentless campaign to damage unions and lower wages. It is work for less, and nothing else.
In the meantime, we must not let them notch their belt with another state. The Colorado campaign against Amendment 47 is gaining strength, but in these final weeks before the election it has a formidable task. Despite a buy-in from a surprising number of sympathetic business leaders and elected officials opposed Colorado's work for less campaign, no one knows who will win.
What you can do
As the work for less campaign knocks over state after state, it becomes increasingly apparent that your paychecks, your safety on the job, and your right to a 40 hour work week depend upon our response. Together we must stop, and then reverse, this diabolical and relentless attack against all working people. There are two organizations that need your help:
and, Protect Colorado's Future
Please share this information with others. Link to their websites if you can.
Contact them if you are able to contribute directly, and ask how you can help.
This work is in the public domain