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Stop blaming unions already. It's getting boring!

by David Soll

In his first-ever State of the State address, newly-elected Governor Bruce Rauner outlined his hope to create “right-to-work” zones in and around our state, essentially giving local municipalities the legal right to create areas of the state that are hostile to unions.

What does “right-to-work” mean, precisely? “Right-to-work” laws can prohibit union security agreements -- agreements between labor unions and employers that require all employees who enjoy the benefits of union protection to pay a fair share for that representation. With this measure, anti-union politicians are using the power of government to underfund unions and create divisions between union and non-union members in the workplace.

Anti-union politicians like Rauner like to say that unions protect bad employees. This is not an accurate depiction of what unions do. Unions protect the due process rights of all members to make sure disciplinary processes are fair and equal for everyone. Outside of the workplace, we all have due process rights through the criminal justice system. Unions allow workers to have those rights on the job. It’s a benefit for the employer as well as the employee to have streamlined rules for discipline.

The term “right-to-work” allows anti-worker politicians and pundits to sugarcoat the reality of what these laws ultimately do. They allow any employer to fire any employee on the spot for any infraction, real or imagined. Your job would be at the whim of your boss, who alone would make the life-altering decisions regarding your employment.

In 1981, about 30% of workers were unionized; today it’s barely 7%. This did not happen by accident - it happened by policy. Policies like NAFTA and the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership both excessively benefit multi-national corporations by moving jobs to countries that have labor laws that make it difficult-to-impossible to form a union and allow for employers to pay poverty wages.

The current attacks on working people are targeted primarily at public sector, unionized workers. This does not mean others are safe. If we lose our bargaining rights, the unionized workers in the private sector will be next. Research shows that union membership in a region raises wages and working conditions for all, not just unionized workers. If we allow this to continue, we all lose.




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