Teamsters Lead New Era of Resistance Against Right to Work
Something haunts the legislative chambers of our democracy. From state capitols to the halls of Congress, it creeps into the committees of lawmakers who are possessed by its power and driven by its chilling agenda. But there’s nothing paranormal about this force. It’s the familiar greed of corporate crusaders and their deep-pocketed advocates.
Like a stubborn curse, the predictable push for anti-union right-to-work laws seems to resurrect itself with each legislative session in a number of states. And in the aftermath of the recent elections, billionaire lobbyists are more emboldened than ever in their pursuit of laws that undermine collective bargaining.
“Right to work is an attack on the very middle class that sustains democratic society,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “These laws aim to financially cripple organized labor. The result is less power for workers and more flexibility for employers to drive down wages and fatten their pockets.”
The agenda behind right-to-work (RTW) laws—bankrolled by right-wing organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and the billionaire Koch brothers—has never been about giving workers the freedom to reject unionization or refuse to pay union dues. Workers have had that freedom since the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act was enacted.
Even in free-bargaining states, union workers can opt out of paying dues but are still required to pay fair-share fees that help cover the cost of the union representation from which they benefit.
RTW laws force unions to represent workers who refuse to contribute in any way to the cost of representation. What drives these anti-union laws is a desire to amass profits while wage-earners grow poorer.
Teamsters Take On RTW in New Hampshire
ALEC counts more than a quarter of state legislators among its members and RTW is a top-priority “model bill” for the secret lobbying group. In the last five years, six states have adopted RTW, including Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri.
Fortunately, the RTW crusade has been fiercely opposed by working families and Teamsters have been a critical part of the resistance.
In February, Teamsters celebrated the defeat of RTW in New Hampshire, where the House of Representatives voted 200-177 in a bipartisan rejection of the anti-worker bill.
Local 633 in Manchester, N.H. and Joint Council 10, which represents 22 locals across New England, launched a massive call to action leading up to the vote. Thousands of members called their elected officials in the House of Representatives asking them to reject the RTW legislation.
“Our members and their families worked hard to send a message to the legislature that right to work is wrong for New Hampshire,” said Jeffrey Padellaro, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 633.
“Teamsters have been working extremely hard to raise awareness of the problems with this right-to-work bill,” said Sean M. O’Brien, International Vice President and Secretary-Treasurer of Joint Council 10. “This vote is a major victory for organized labor and the middle class that we hope will resonate for a long time and have an impact in other states considering damaging right-to-work legislation.”
Billionaires’ Agenda Hits the Bluegrass State
The fight against RTW has been tougher in other parts of the country. In Kentucky, Republican lawmakers pushed through three bills in January to drive down wages and weaken labor unions. Gov. Matt Bevin immediately signed the bills into law, including House Bill 1 that officially made Kentucky the 27th RTW state.
The Republican majority in both chambers made these destructive bills a top priority, holding a rare weekend session to push through the controversial legislation while hundreds of working men and women protested in the statehouse.
As they chanted “Suits in there, boots out here,” union members remained locked out of the hearings while lawmakers and RTW lobbyists rushed anti-worker bills through the legislature.
“With three strokes of his pen, Gov. Bevin has gutted worker protections in the state of Kentucky,” Hoffa said. “The governor and the Republican legislators are leading the state down a road to ruin by passing right to work. There is no disputing the facts: wages and benefits are significantly lower in right-to-work states than in free-bargaining states while poverty rates are higher. Right-to-work laws only enrich corporations while working families are left behind.”
Rage Against the War on Workers
Across the river in Missouri where Teamsters worked with former Gov. Jay Nixon to hold back RTW attacks in recent years, the election of Koch-backed Gov. Eric Greitens was the final ingredient needed for right-wing billionaires to fulfill their agenda in the state.
RTW legislation was signed into law just a few weeks into the new governor’s term. A labor-backed referendum is being organized that may yet stop the Missouri law when it is put before voters.
In Ohio, a state that often finds itself in the crosshairs of antiunion zealots, new RTW legislation was introduced in February.
Working families in Ohio have successfully beat back union-busting bills in the past but it will take sustained resistance by labor to keep the RTW menace out of the Buckeye State.
In West Virginia, Teamsters—led by General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall—have held massive rallies and called on their representatives to oppose the anti-worker agenda being rammed through the state’s legislature. Hall joined hundreds of union members protesting in the State Capitol before RTW was passed early last year.
“The anti-worker legislative agenda being pushed in the Capitol is clearly being promoted by out-of-state interests like billionaire industrialists the Koch brothers, who have aggressively pushed their agenda in West Virginia following the 2014 election,” said Hall, who also serves as President of Local 175 in South Charleston, W.Va.
In August 2016, West Virginia Teamsters played a major role in winning an injunction that suspended RTW in the state after Hall testified against the law, which remains on hold pending a court decision.
Then there’s the perennial push to enact RTW on a national scale. In previous years, national RTW has been viewed as dead-on-arrival legislation that never makes it out of committee. But with GOP lawmakers now in control, and President Trump’s clear support of RTW laws, there was more alarm this time when Reps. Steven King (R-Iowa) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) introduced a national RTW bill in the House in February.
“It’s shameful that some members of Congress have chosen to prioritize big business interests over the demands of their constituents,” Hoffa wrote in the Huffington Post after the bill was introduced.
Right-to-work laws have a complicated history. Many of these laws originated as a means to restrict the rights of our country’s most vulnerable workers.
“Right to work laws originated as means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations,” University of Arkansas Associate Professor Michael Pierce recently wrote. It’s no surprise then that people of color, and women of color in particular, are among the hardest hit by RTW laws.
As Teamsters face a new political era, workers around the country are girding against a climate of heightened hostility against labor. But while the RTW curse is fed by an endless supply of corporate money, working families have a movement of millions of workers—propelled by Teamster power and united against those who want to profit from the poverty of RTW.
What Can Members Do to STOP Right to Work
Right-to-work (RTW) legislation is becoming increasingly prevalent at all levels of government due in large part to the results of last November’s election. But that doesn’t mean members should just stand back and take it.
Instead, they need to mobilize! And that can be done nationally when it comes to defeating right to work in Congress. All Teamsters can participate by contacting their House and Senate members and demanding they vote no should the measure come to a vote.
At the state level, much of the legislative action has already taken place for this year. But there is no reason not to reach out to state representatives and let them know about how right to work is a ruse that will hurt workers and their families.
Educating elected officials as well as neighbors and family about the ravages of right to work is necessary if workers are going to win this policy debate.
For more information, visit www.teamster.org.
Florida Aramark Workers Stand Together in Right-to-Work State
Florida has been a right-to-work state for decades. In order to have a strong union, the workers at Aramark Uniform Services in Orlando know it’s important that they join as members of the union. In fact, 100 percent of the route sales representatives at the facility are dues-paying members of Local 385.
Dale Lance has worked at Aramark for 27 years. He’s a proud second-generation Teamster and said he’s been a Teamster since day one.
“It’s important for everyone to join the union, because they’re getting the benefits of the union. We band together because there is strength in numbers,” Lance said. “The union is here on the job site to protect jobs and make sure it’s fair game on both sides of the table.”
Lance, like his co-workers, runs a route every day, servicing, collecting money, doing inventory control, quality control and more.
Lance works with Robert Grider, another route sales representative.
“If we have any problems, we can get them solved quickly with our local Teamster leader. It’s a wonderful thing to have the union in my life and in my job,” Grider said.
Paul Koulesser has been with Aramark for 22 years and said that the union helps establish good health care, a good rate of pay and job security.
Those standards were established as a result of the unity that the Teamsters at Aramark embody.
“I think it’s the camaraderie of all the guys together. We all like to walk down the same road, have the same benefits and look out for each other. Being a union has helped us a lot,” said Bernie Wilmont, who has worked at Aramark for 21 years.
“Without strong union membership, we wouldn’t have been successful in fighting for some of the issues we’ve won. The new workers coming in see what it means to be active in the union through their leaders in the group, and we hope that continues on,” said Donna-Lynne Dalton, Recording Secretary and Business Agent with Local 385.
FALSE CLAIMS, FALSE PROMISES
These laws drive down wages for all workers, including nonunion members, women and people of color. Workers living in right-to-work states earn about $1,500 less per year than workers in states without these laws. The wage penalty is even higher for women and workers of color.
• Workers in right-to-work states are less likely to have health insurance. The rate of employer-sponsored health insurance for workers in right-to-work states is 2.6 percentage points lower than in states without these restrictions.
• Right to work makes workplaces more dangerous. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is higher in right-to-work states.
• Studies have shown that right-to-work laws do not improve business conditions in states and is not a deciding factor in where businesses locate. In fact, high-tech companies that provide good-paying, American jobs favor states where unions have a strong presence, because unions provide a high-skilled workforce and decrease turnover.
• Communities lose jobs when wages are lowered by right to work. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that for every $1 million in wage cuts, the local economy sheds six jobs.
• Right to work does not improve the employment rate. In fact, seven of the 11 states with the highest unemployment rates have right-to-work laws on the books. (http://www.bls.gov/web/laus/laumstrk.htm)
The Fight Against Right to Work in West Virginia Continues
Republican lawmakers in West Virginia pushed through a lousy anti-worker bill last year that a judge later halted from taking effect. But the Legislature isn’t done. They plan on revamping the measure in hopes of clarifying confusing provisions approved by elected officials.
GOP legislators overrode the veto of former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in 2016, ensuring the passage of right to work (RTW) in the state. But a Kanawha County Circuit judge took issue with several components of the law, including a section that seemed to exempt building and construction trade unions from it, as well as another that could be interpreted to apply the law only to public employee unions.
Judge Jennifer Bailey issued a preliminary injunction last August barring the measure from taking effect. So in hopes of reviving the law, West Virginia Republicans tried to clarify that language. They overrode a veto by current Gov. Jim Justice to approve a bill that retroactively changes the stalled law to make clear that RTW applies to all workers.
Their revisionist history rewrite, however, does nothing to address the biggest concern Judge Bailey had with the law—that it illegally takes union assets.
State and federal law require unions to represent all employees at a unionist company, whether they are paying members or not.
“Right to work hasn’t become law yet in West Virginia because it’s bad policy that will hurt working families trying their best to earn a living,” said Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall, who also serves as President of Local 175 in South Charleston, W.Va. “No matter how much lawmakers tinker around the edges, that’s not going to change.”
The Teamsters and other unions pushed for court intervention to stop RTW from taking effect in West Virginia because they understand what’s at stake.
Despite promises from proponents, the law does nothing to create jobs, grow the middle class or improve the lives of workers. All it does is drive down wages and reduce safety in the workplace.
This union will continue to stand up against anti-worker laws like RTW.
A Tale of Two States
(And What it Tells Us About Right-to-Work Laws)
In 2011 and 2012 two states, New Hampshire and Indiana, debated the same bill: right-to-work legislation, pushed by corporate lobbyists and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), designed to weaken unions financially and pave the way for greater corporate dominance of state politics.
New Hampshire’s governor vetoed the bill in 2011. Indiana, by contrast, enacted it in 2012. It is instructive to compare the two states. By almost any measure, the economy of New Hampshire is stronger and its citizens are better off, on average, than the citizens of Indiana. Right to work did not improve the Indiana economy relative to New Hampshire’s, and no one should be fooled into thinking that passing right to work now will improve the economy.
Right-to-work laws prohibit unions and employers from agreeing to collective bargaining agreements that require employees covered by the agreement to pay their fair share of the costs of negotiating and enforcing it. The only right that right to work creates is the right for free riders to get the benefit of higher union wages and protections against unfair discipline without contributing any dues or fees for that privilege.
EPI published two reports critical of the New Hampshire legislation, one in 2011 and another in 2012, pointing out that the only real purpose and effects of these laws are lowering wages and weakening unions. As the figure below suggests, such laws do nothing to create jobs, and they don’t give anyone a right to work, but they are associated with lower wages—lower on average by more than 3 percent, or $1,500 per worker.
New Hampshire’s legislature recently debated another right-to-work bill. The bill’s sponsors claimed it would improve New Hampshire’s business climate and bring new jobs to the state, but there was no truth to this. Job growth in Indiana since it passed right to work has been no better than in New Hampshire.
At 2.7 percent, New Hampshire has the nation’s lowest unemployment rate. Indiana’s unemployment rate is 4.2 percent. Wages are far higher in New Hampshire than Indiana. The median hourly wage was $16.50 in Indiana and $19.17 in New Hampshire over the first 11 months of 2016. The mean hourly wage was $21.27 in Indiana but $25.21 in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire has the lowest poverty rate in the country: 8.2 percent. Indiana’s poverty rate is 14.5 percent, and ranked 26th. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2015, Indiana had a per capita personal income (PCPI) of $41,940. This PCPI ranked 36th in the United States and was 87 percent of the national average, $48,112. New Hampshire’s per capita income was 33 percent higher than Indiana’s: $55,905, ranked 9th in the nation, and 116 percent of the national average.
It is important to consider whether right to work is somehow an advantage to a state with regard to the economy of the future, which most economists agree will be a knowledge-driven economy. The Kauffman Foundation and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation have been ranking states in a New Economy Index for many years based on factors such as economic dynamism, employment in high-value-added manufacturing, educational attainment of the workforce, and technological innovation capacity. Measured before and after Indiana passed its right-to-work law, Indiana’s rank fell from 35th in the nation in 2010 to 38th in 2014. New Hampshire ranked number 11 in both 2010 and 2014. Only two of the top 15 states are right to work.
Why anyone would want to use Indiana as a model for New Hampshire is a question worth asking, given that on almost any measure, the quality of life and the economic outcomes for the citizens of New Hampshire are superior to Indiana’s. In fact, Americans are voting with their feet: from 2012–2015, net migration into New Hampshire was +10,034. Net migration in Indiana over the same period was negative 697.
Right-to-work proponents like to say that weakening unions is the key to getting business to move to an area, but the facts are otherwise, as revealed by Area Development magazine’s annual survey of corporate executives.
The top three location selection factors for corporate users rarely tend to change from year to year:
Labor — quality and availability;
Cost — employees, real estate, overall occupancy (including taxes, 1x costs, etc.); and
Accessibility — logistics and supply chain networks, access to markets, and inputs/employees, etc.
The Continuing War for Talent
Skilled labor availability, typically the number-one ranked issue annually, ranked even higher than previous years. It also ranked significantly higher than just cost of labor, which is particularly true for knowledge-based industries.
Right to work and union profile are both down in importance.
Why? This is generally less of an issue for companies with a higher ratio of skilled employees.
The corporate executives identified the top 10 factors that influence site selection, and right to work wasn’t even listed.
Simply put, there’s no rationale for passing this legislation, except to weaken unions politically and decrease the ability of workers to bargain for higher wages and stronger workplace protections.
For more information, visit the Economic Policy Institute at epi.org.
By Ross Eisenbrey and Teresa Kroeger, Economic Policy Institute