WASHINGTON WATCH: Right To Work Law Passed & Signed In Michigan; How Will This New Legislation Impact You (VIDEO) | Roland Martin Reports

WASHINGTON WATCH: Right To Work Law Passed & Signed In Michigan; How Will This New Legislation Impact You (VIDEO)

Labor unions lost another battle this week in Michigan in the ongoing assault on the rights of workers that we’ve seen in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio. In the space of a few short days, the lame duck Republican state legislature passed, and the Republican governor signed, a so-called “right to work” law. There were no hearings on the bill, and until this week, Governor Rick Snyder had opposed the idea of passing such a law.

Now, here’s how the law affects unions. In workplaces where a collective bargaining agreement is in place, employees covered by it have been required to pay dues to the union, whether they are members or not. The new law says they won’t have to pay dues if they don’t want to. This cuts into the monies unions use to fund professional negotiators, lawyers and grievance procedures.

This method of busting unions is favored and funded by big-money conservatives, like the billionaire Koch brothers and the Republican Party. The Koch brothers and their allies see this as a way to keep down the cost of workers’ pay and benefits. The Republican Party sees this as a way to weaken or destroy unions, the traditional and very effective allies of the Democratic Party.

Union rights and civil rights have long been intertwined. One of the most outspoken advocates for the rights of workers was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The 1963 March on Washington was a March for Jobs and Freedom and heavily supported by the labor movement. Dr. King was murdered in Memphis, and he was there supporting the striking sanitation workers’ union. And unions – especially public employee unions – played a vital role in gaining the wages and benefits that helped enlarge and maintain America’s middle class.

The victors in Michigan have vowed to take their fight to the 26 states that do not have a right-to-work law – or, as President Barack Obama called it, quote, “the right to work for less.”

Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; D. Alexander Bullock, Michigan state coordinator for Rainbow PUSH; and William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO joined Roland Martin on the set of Washington Watch to discuss how right-to-work laws affects Americans.

 

MR. MARTIN: Labor unions lost another battle this week in Michigan in the ongoing assault on the rights of workers that we’ve seen in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio.  In the space of a few short days, the lame duck Republican state legislature passed, and the Republican governor signed, a so-called “right to work” law.  There were no hearings on the bill, and until this week, Governor Rick Snyder had opposed the idea of passing such a law.

Now, here’s how the law affects unions.  In workplaces where a collective bargaining agreement is in place, employees covered by it have been required to pay dues to the union, whether they are members or not.  The new law says they won’t have to pay dues if they don’t want to.  This cuts into the monies unions use to fund professional negotiators, lawyers and grievance procedures.

This method of busting unions is favored and funded by big-money conservatives, like the billionaire Koch brothers and the Republican Party.  The Koch brothers and their allies see this as a way to keep down the cost of workers’ pay and benefits.  The Republican Party sees this as a way to weaken or destroy unions, the traditional and very effective allies of the Democratic Party.

Union rights and civil rights have long been intertwined.  One of the most outspoken advocates for the rights of workers was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The 1963 March on Washington was a March for Jobs and Freedom and heavily supported by the labor movement.  Dr. King was murdered in Memphis, and he was there supporting the striking sanitation workers’ union.    And unions – especially public employee unions – played a vital role in gaining the wages and benefits that helped enlarge and maintain America’s middle class.

The victors in Michigan have vowed to take their fight to the 26 states that do not have a right-to-work law – or, as President Barack Obama called it, quote, “the right to work for less.”

Here to help us understand how this affects African-Americans and all Americans are:  Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; D. Alexander Bullock, Michigan state coordinator for Rainbow PUSH; and William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO.

All right, gents.  Welcome to the show.

[CHORUS OF THANK-YOUS/CROSSTALK.]

MR. MARTIN:  Good pocket square.  They didn’t get the memo.

All right.

[CHUCKLING.]

MR. MARTIN:  You have critics who say, “Wait a minute.  What’s the big deal here?  If you don’t belong to a union, why should you have to pay dues?  You should make the choice yourself.”  That’s what you hear critics say.

Your response to them – because they say that’s really what this bill is all about?

MR. LEE SAUNDERS:  The choice has already been made by having an election, and the workers within that bargaining unit chose to have a union.  There are certain costs associated with representing workers, whether it’s cost of negotiations, servicing those members, and everyone must pay their fair share.  Everyone should pay their fair share – not what’s happened in Michigan – and it’s occurred in a number of other states across the country … that, even if the election has taken place, and the workers have decided to be a part of a union, based upon the right-to-work-for-less law, individuals can opt out.  They don’t have to pay union dues, yet they receive the same level of benefits that other members get within that union.

MR. MARTIN:  What about that?  Because if you’re someone who – you’re paying your dues, and now someone who doesn’t pay them, but they still get the benefits, how is that fair?  And is there any recourse to get them to pay up?

MR. D. ALEXANDER BULLOCK:  Well, it’s not fair.  I think that we all understand that if I’m going to be represented by the union, then I should be required to pay for those services.

But this, I think, much bigger than not respecting the right of the union to have their services paid for by those who are part of it.  This is about a Republican, conservative strategy to dismantle democracy – whether it’s by dismantling collective bargaining, whether it’s by taking over cities by way of emergency management, whether it was by weakening the Democratic Party by trying to disenfranchise their base.  I mean let’s call this what it is.  This is class, conservative warfare.  And [in] Michigan, we just lost a major battle, but we must gear up for the war.

MR. MARTIN:  Bill, how can there be a change?  Is it possible in Michigan, when there’s a new legislature in January, for them to reconvene to try to pass a new law?  So, how do you counter what’s already been passed and signed into law?

MR. WILLIAM SPRIGGS:  Well, there’re some legal challenges that are under way at the moment, as well as Lee is out there with AFSCME, trying to gear up to figure out either an initiative or some other remedy that the people can vote on.

But like Brother Bullock said, this is about democracy in the workplace itself.  Unions do much more than simply bargain for wages.  Unions are vital to safety in the workplace.  We know that organized places have safer workplaces.  That’s because there’s someone with an independent voice who can voice those concerns about safety.  So, when you withdraw the money from the union, when you create this free rider problem – and who doesn’t want something for free – you dismantle the ability of workers to raise their concerns about safety, about pensions, about healthcare.  All of these things are what the workers are getting as benefits.

And it spills over to the bigger population.  States that have right-to-work laws – we say “right to work for less,” because those are the lowest-wage states in the United States.  So, it bleeds over to the whole political economy of the state.

MR. MARTIN:  Lee, we discussed this before, and that is Republicans have had an all-out assault on unions for years.  Union membership now is at an all-time low.  Is this a question of, again, in the minds of many Americans, they actually believe, “Oh!  Unions are bad [and] ‘right-to-work’ always good”?

MR. SAUNDERS:  No, I really don’t think so, and I think we can look at the November 6 elections to show where American people really are and what they’re thinking.  They believe that everyone should play by the same rules, that everybody should have an opportunity to move into the middle class to achieve the American Dream

This is not a – and I want to stress this.  This is not a fight just with unions.  This is an attack on working families.  It’s an attack on the middle class.  It’s an attack on union members and non-union members.  It’s all about – once again, as we faced on November 6th, it’s all about the 1 percent trying to have a political power play, gaining more power, more wealth.  They have not stopped, even though we had a good day on November 6th.  But they have not stopped.  They will not stop.  Now they’re in Michigan. They’re going to be going to other states across the country, and we’ve just got to be prepared for that.  We’ve got to coalesce with organizations who support working families, who support families moving into the middle class, and we’ve got to go after these politicians who essentially are doing the bidding of the top 1 percent – the Koch brothers, as you mentioned, and other folks who want to gain more and more power and more and more wealth at the expense of the 99 percent.  And that’s what this is all about.

MR. MARTIN:  Isn’t this also a case – and I keep making this point on this show – that black folks and others can’t just be focused on a presidential election, because these type[s] of laws are being passed at the state level?  And if you ignore state rep, state senate and gubernatorial races, this is the result – because the opposition, they aren’t ignoring those races.

MR. BULLOCK:  No, that’s right, Roland.  We cannot just be focused on the presidential election.  We must be focused on state and local elections.  In fact, 85 percent of the laws that affect our lives are enacted on the state level.

But I think more to that, the trade union movement, the progressive movement – I think we’ve got to recapture those old connections that we used to have.  You opened this segment talking about Dr. Martin Luther King and his relationship to UAW.  When he died in Memphis, he was there on behalf of those AFSCME workers there.  We’ve seen, I think, over time a kind of silo movement, where the unions are working on worker issues in their silo.  The Black Church is working on Black Church issues, trying to figure out our identity.  You know, the black activist community – the traditional civil rights community – [is] in their silo, and then this underclass that’s not connected at all to any of this.

I think what has happened now, though, is that our backs are against the wall, and one of the bright lights of what happened in Michigan is that now we’re seeing people talking about reconvening this ‘big tent’ – this broad coalition, this Rainbow PUSH, so to speak, where we can begin now to not be fighting in our own silos, but come together as a progressive movement that pushes back.

MR. MARTIN:  All right, gentlemen, we appreciate it.  Thanks a bunch, and we’ll keep paying attention and see what happens.

MR. SAUNDERS:  Thanks for having us.

MR. BULLOCK:  Thank you.

  • jalafian

    Clearly about union busting. If it wasn’t there would be some type of measure where the person who wouldn’t want to be in the union would have to negotiate their own contract, instead of being able to receive all the benefits that union represented employees get. This idea that this is about worker freedom, and worker choice is just a slick way to deceive people. Why? If this was only for the advantage of the worker would it make a difference to a business at all? Why would the right to work state deter or encourage companies to locate to these states if this only effects workers. Either way it goes those union dues aren’t paid by the employer. There would have to be some advantage the company would get in a right to work state versus a state that was NOT a right to work state.