Right-to-work legislation was passed and signed in to law in Michigan. Roland Martin and the Washington Watch roundtable discuss the debate over right-to-work legislation.
This week’s Washington Watch roundtable features Rahiel Tesfamariam, columnist for TheWashingtonPost.com; Dr. Chris Metzler, political scientist from Georgetown University; Deborah Simmons, senior correspondent for “The Washington Times”; and Joseph Williams, contributor for TheGrio.com.
MR. MARTIN: We saw drama this week in Michigan – folks throwin’ down, union supporters going after folks who are against union supporters. Can unions – can they actually win this battle? Because we saw what happened in Michigan. Then we saw Wisconsin. We see Indiana. We saw Ohio, and they’re under a vicious assault. The battle’s now on the state level. Can they win, or are they going up against too strong … [an] attack?
MS. SIMMONS: They have to do what they themselves call “collective bargaining”: “What do we want?” “What do you want to give us?” It’s no different than what’s going on in Congress over the “fiscal cliff” – which we need to find another term to explain.
But the unions can win, but only if they concede that what they want isn’t what all Americans want, because that’s sort of the drumbeat that’s been going on a lot. “If you’re good to us” – the unions – “then anything and everything you give us, concede to us, is good for all America.” And it’s not always the case. I’m gon’ miss my Twinkies! [Chuckles.]
MS. SIMMONS: And there’s no doubt about that. And what that company said was part of the problem was the concessions being made by labor. Whether we w- —
MR. MARTIN: Not –
MS. SIMMONS: — whether –
MR. WILLIAMS: [Crosstalk] – you’re talking about, though. I mean –
MR. MARTIN: — but also in that case, the –
MS. SIMMONS: — it’s usually mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money.
MR. MARTIN: — yeah, but also –
MR. WILLIAMS: — no, but not –
MR. MARTIN: — in that case, though, the u- —
MR. WILLIAMS: — all the time.
MS. SIMMONS: No, I said it’s usually.
MR. MARTIN: — but, Deborah – Deborah, but in that case, the unions took significant cuts. And what’s interesting is that the executives in that particular case chose not to take any cuts [and] still got their big bonuses.
MS. SIMMONS: Right. Yeah, of course, and they said, “We can’t afford to continue doing business as we have” – which meant –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MS. SIMMONS: — those executives couldn’t keep getting paid the way they were, and the unions couldn’t keep getting paid –
MR. WILLIAMS: So –
MS. SIMMONS: — and made demands in[?] benefits and the way that they were.
MR. WILLIAMS: — so, the executives eventually took the money and ran –
MS. SIMMONS: It’s –
MR. WILLIAMS: — because they’re going to be okay.
MS. SIMMONS: — but it was their money!
MR. WILLIAMS: It wasn’t their money! It was –
MS. SIMMONS: Yes. No.
MR. WILLIAMS: — collectively speaking, the –
MS. SIMMONS: No.
MR. WILLIAMS: — the employees made the product that the executives were able to sell and get those bonuses.
MS. SIMMONS: You know I love you. “My company” –
MR. WILLIAMS: My sistah.
MS. SIMMONS: — “my money.”
MR. WILLIAMS: [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: But here’s –
MS. SIMMONS: That’s the bottom line. “My company” –
MR. MARTIN: — but here’s the deal, though.
MS. SIMMONS: — “my money.”
MR. MARTIN: I think it is very simple to say, “Look, unions should take less, less, less,” but the reality is this here. When you look at history, the fact of the matter is – even right now – if you are in a state where you have unions, you have higher –
MR. WILLIAMS: Higher salaries.
MR. MARTIN: — wages. You look at the places where you don’t, and you have lower salaries. And what these companies are saying is, “We want to go low, low, low.” And let’s just be honest. None of these companies want[s] to have to pay workers more.
MR. WILLIAMS: No.
MS. TESFAMARIAM: Yeah.
MR. MARTIN: They simply don’t want to.
MS. TESFAMARIAM: I think it’s a value system. Whether we’re talking about unions, or whether we’re talking about the fiscal cliff, it’s the difference between what’s important to everyday Americans who are struggling – and these are also ultimately consumers, you know. So, this question of if you’re the –
MR. MARTIN: Consumers, folks who own homes, who have children who go to college, people who’re trying to earn a living as well.
MS. TESFAMARIAM: — right. And so –
OFF CAMERA: All of that.
MS. TESFAMARIAM: — supporting those individuals also supports the bottom line. And I think there’s this imbalance between helping the folks, you know, who are at the bottom and the folks that make money. And we[’ve] really got to figure out that until both are getting their needs met, ultimately America loses.
DR. METZLER: But it’s time for the unions to rebrand themselves, too. I think if you look at – because a lot of the conversation now is, given the economic times, what model can we continue to use? We can’t use the model that we’re currently using, so it’s time for the unions to rebrand themselves.
It’s also time for the unions to spend the money that they get from the dues to help up-skill their workers. If you look at a number of those cases where you’ve got people who have been laid off from these jobs … [and] they can no longer make seats, what can they now do? So –
MR. WILLIAMS: They can’t make seats for a couple of different reasons, though. They can’t make seats because the jobs making those seats have either gone overseas, or they’ve been computers – or, they’ve been higher technology.
But the problem, though, is that the reinvestment to upscale those workers, as you say – the reinvestment that companies used to make in training, in wages and in giving good living conditions that continue to allow them to make these good products, has completely gone over the cliff as productivity has gone up and wages have gone down.
MR. MARTIN: [Crosstalk]- —
MR. WILLIAMS: That’s what’s widely contributed to the class disparity that’s going on in America right now – is the fact that unions aren’t getting the good-wage jobs because companies have figured out how to do more with less.
DR. METZLER: Well, yeah. And – but during the time that – from a collective bargaining standpoint, part of what they have to bargain for is those training dollars.
MR. WILLIAMS: But, see, they can’t –
DR. METZLER: Use those training –
MR. WILLIAMS: — even bargain for anything, because the management says, “Give us what we want, or we will shut the whole operation down” – à la Hostess.
And also, moreover, public-sector union jobs have been among the lagging indicators of economic growth in the last five years. You look at any chart where job numbers are going up, the one that’s falling behind, or even going in the negative: public-sector workers. What happened in Wisconsin, what happened in Ohio, what’s happening in Michigan now [is] the fact that public-sector unions are going belly-up. That’s what this is all about. And public-sector unions have been the gateway to the African-American middle class for the last 60 years. All that’s going by the boards.
DR. METZLER: Yeah. Well –
MR. MARTIN: Twenty seconds in this panel. And go ahead.
DR. METZLER: — okay. So – [chuckles] –
MR. MARTIN: Just lettin’ y’all know I’m countin’.
OFF CAMERA: Nineteen, 18 –
DR. METZLER: — nineteen – right. [Chuckles.]
DR. METZLER: … so, part of the reason they can’t make seats is during that period of time when they were making seats, what the unions should be looking at is “what is the future?” The future is computerizing these things. The future is electronics. It is that opportunity that they should use to look to the future to help their workers; because without workers, obviously, there’ll be no unions.
MR. MARTIN: I’ll tell you what, though.
MS. SIMMONS: [Crosstalk.]
MR. MARTIN: A lot of these same people who are running around who are trying to get behind these initiatives – those are the same folks who will be complaining about not making enough money, trying to feed their family. And so while the Koch brothers, they’re making their billions, and the folks are running around trying to support their agenda – trust me. They’re trying to screw those very same people –
MR. MARTIN: — when it comes to pay. So –
MR. WILLIAMS: It’s going to keep happening.
MR. MARTIN: — bottom line is broke folks [are] losin’ money, too.
MR. MARTIN: Rahiel, Chris, Deborah, Joe, I appreciate it. Thanks a bunch. Folks, we’re out of time.