A blog by Bob Peterson, founder of Rethinking Schools magazine and former president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association. Posts focus on the essential links between quality public schools, a vibrant multicultural democracy, and justice for all.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
Gov. Walker: Support Jobs, Not Attack Working Families
Wisconsin desperately needs family-supporting jobs. Yet Governor Walker and the Republicans’ misnamed “right to work” legislation will do the opposite.
Such legislation might boost Walker’s presidential ambitions, but it will hurt all working people in Wisconsin.
In 2011 Governor Walker and the Republican majority used a budget shortfall as an excuse to attack the rights of public sector workers and the public sector.
Now they have turned their attack towards destroying the rights of private sector workers, blaming private sector unions for our economic woes.
This law is nothing more than a cover for pro-corporate interests who know that weak unions and low wages can build ever-higher profits. Rather than build prosperity, this legislation will undermine our state’s progressive tradition and quality of life.
This country has a long history with such anti-union laws. Most states with these measures are in the West or the South, such as Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, and have lower wages and a poorer quality of life.
A better name for Republican’s proposed legislation would be “race to the bottom.”
So-called right-to-work states have lower wages.
Good wages and benefits are key to quality of life – both to support families and to provide a reliable tax base for education, infrastructure and public services. Yet the annual median income in right-to-work states is $6,185 less than in other states, according to 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data. What’s more, these anti-union states tend to have higher poverty rates, less access to health care and lower performing schools. In the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s well-respected “Kids Count” survey, the three worst states for children are in right-to-work states and the three best all allow workers to form strong unions. Would you rather have your child go to the University of Wisconsin or the University of Mississippi? Would you prefer to raise a family in Mississippi, where the 2013 child poverty rate was 34%, or in Wisconsin, where it was 18%?
Strong unions build a strong middle class.
During the New Deal, federal laws not only permitted but encouraged collective bargaining. After World War II, such policies built a foundation for shared prosperity and a thriving middle class. With the rise of deregulation and attacks on unionization in recent decades, including Walker’s attack on public sector unions in Wisconsin in 2011, income inequality has skyrocketed as the rich have grown richer, the poor poorer, and the middle class has shrunk. As The New York Times has editorialized, “the drive for more jobs must coincide with efforts to preserve and improve the policies, programs and institutions that have fostered shared prosperity and broad opportunity – Social Security, Medicare, public schools, progressive taxation, unions, affirmative action, regulation of financial markets and enforcement of labor laws.”
So-called right-to-work laws undermine workplace democracy and foster a freeloader mentality.
Right-to-work laws promote freeloading and are a backhanded way of de-funding unions. The union, by law, negotiates wages and benefits that all workers receive whether or not they are union members. The union, by law, represents workers in disputes that arise – whether or not they are union members. Current Wisconsin law allows all represented employees in private sector job sites to share in the cost of union representation. The proposed Republican legislation would allow workers to escape paying their fair share while still receiving all benefits. That’s not the way democracy works. Contributing to the common good is an essential component of democracy. Imagine if this freeloader scheme existed throughout society. People could refuse to pay taxes and still receive a public education, drive on our freeways and receive police and fire protection.
As we dream of a better future for our children, we should heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated during his campaign supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis.
“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as right to work,” King warned. “It provides no rights and no works. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining. . . . We demand that this fraud be stopped.”
Governor Walker should deliver on his campaign promise to create jobs, not use false slogans and a new attack on Wisconsin working families to bolster his presidential ambitions.
Bob Peterson is president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.