Right-to-Work Equals Less Unions

 New Orleans               Rarely do we see the evidence of plain and simple attacks on unions any clearer than in the reports quoted by Steve Greenhouse in today’s New York Times.   In an article about the impending fight in Indiana where the Republican union haters and labor baiters are mounting an effort to impose so-called “right-to-work” laws allowing workers (“free riders”) covered under collective bargaining agreements to pay neither dues nor servicing fees for the legally mandated and contractually enforceable representation by the union, he cited some compellingly studies:

“Many studies have assessed the impact of right-to-work legislation, although much of the research is from years ago, when right-to-work was a hotter issue.

Henry Farber, a labor economist at Princeton, said right-to-work laws, by allowing “free riders,” shrink union treasuries. One study found that the portion of free riders in right-to-work states ranged from 9 percent in Georgia to 39 percent in South Dakota.

In another study, David T. Ellwood, the dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Glenn A. Fine, a former Justice Department official, found that in the five years after states enacted such legislation, the number of unionization drives dropped by 28 percent, and in the following five years by an added 12 percent. Organizing wins fell by 46 percent in the first five years and 30 percent the next five. Over all, they found, right-to-work laws, beyond other factors, caused union membership to drop 5 percent to 10 percent.”

If anyone needs help with this, essentially if you weaken the resources of unions, then there is corresponding reduction in the amount of organizing, which is part of the point of such laws, and, furthermore, when workers see that the unions have been weakened in this way, they respond significantly by not voting in favor of union representation at their jobs.  Business manages to slice the heart of labor on both of the sharp ends of this sword by reducing organizing by more than one-third and sending the message that when unions do manage to organize, they have the strong hand, thereby enticing workers to vote NO more than half of the time.

This is how class war works at the legislative level.  No question that the Republicans are committed to that course when they “occupy” a state capitol.

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Initiative Campaigns Could Save Unions and Obama in Ohio in 2012

NWisconsin Budgetew Orleans In a wild case of unintended consequences the current Republican attack on unions in New Jersey, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio could end up insuring the re-election of President Obama and possibly save public sector unionism at the same time though like all political struggles it would be a high stakes gamble.

How?  We could do this by upping the ante and putting protection of collective bargaining on the 2012 ballot with the Presidential election in Ohio, perhaps still the most critical of all battleground states.

Wisconsin has the right of recall and this is being engaged currently by unions and others in reaction to Governor Scott Walker’s moves to eviscerate public sector worker collective bargaining rights.  This was the successful strategy in California several years ago fueled by Congressman Darrell Issa’s resources which dislodged Governor Gray Davis within two years of his election and then replacing him with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Wisconsin does not have a initiative and referendum procedure at the state level, so despite positive opinion polls in the state currently to protect bargaining there is no way to get there from here.  Neither New Jersey nor Indiana allow statewide initiatives and referenda, though about 20% of New Jersey’s local jurisdictions do so depending on the map this could be an opportunity to construct a tactical and strategic bulwark against some of the more draconian measures being proposed by Governor Christie there.

Were protections for union workers on the ballot in Ohio in 2012 there is no question it would energize the low-and-moderate income base, and this was certainly in evidence several years ago when ACORN and allies moved to put an increase in the minimum wage on the ballot there.  A revitalized labor movement in Ohio aligned with Obama there could make a huge difference in securing his re-election.  Tactical protective initiatives in Missouri, Nevada, Washington, and similar states that are important in the Obama column could also be important, and in several of these states workers are desperate for more protections.

There are two problems.  First, it takes a huge effort to put a measure on the ballot, mount the campaign, and hang on for the victory more than 18 months from now with the same fervor labor is showing today, even though now is the absolute perfect time to be preparing for just such efforts.  Secondly, Ohio is one of the few states that allow off-year initiatives, and given the current assault there are undoubtedly many pushing an immediate effort to place the measure on the ballot in Ohio for the fall of 2011.

A 2011 effort – and victory – might also break well for both labor and Obama if it finally proved again that these were fighting times and we had the will and way to win.  The residue of such a struggle and success might embed deeply enough to secure deeper participation in Ohio and still put Ohio in the best place for a union future and an Obama second term.

Either way these are not times for holding your cards, but demand laying down big bets while it’s still possible and it’s we are still a player in the game.

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