States Targeting Union Members and Wages
While the U.S. Congress continues to embrace inaction, states’ 2015 legislative seasons are in full swing, and union members are the target of a series of coordinated assaults dotting the political landscape including right-to-work-for-less laws and measures to reduce or eliminate prevailing wages. Since January, nearly 800 anti-union related bills have been proposed in state houses across the country. The union-dense Midwest is a key target of anti-union forces.
On March 9th, Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed Wisconsin’s right-to-work-for-less bill into law, making it the 25th RTW state. Effective immediately, the law allows workers to benefit from the wages, benefits and working conditions negotiated by a union without having to pay their share of union dues to settle and administer the agreement. Over time, this “freeloading” weakens the union’s ability to negotiate better wages, benefits and working conditions. Walker has aggressively attacked Wisconsin’s unions. In 2011, he stripped 175,000 public workers of most of their bargaining rights. As a result, by 2013 membership in government employee unions had dropped by 48,000.
Missouri’s Republican-led state legislature is trying to pass right-to-work-for-less legislation there, although there is hope it would be successfully vetoed by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon. Also in the Midwest, a prevailing wage battle has surfaced in Michigan, which passed RTW in December 2012.
In Illinois, former private equity fund millionaire and conservative Gov. Bruce Rauner, who took office in January, is making good on campaign promises that in practice, will lower wages, reduce benefits and limit job opportunities for working people:
- Issued Executive Order introducing right-to-work requirements on the state’s public sector by barring unions form charging automatic fees to nonunion employees in the workplaces they represent;
- Proposed creation of empowerment zones, which for the first time would designate towns and counties, as right to work, and
- Called for scrapping prevailing wage laws that protect local economies by requiring state and local government pay near union scale on construction projects.
These measures either have or will be subject to legal challenge. But Rauner is determined. He reportedly reminded Illinois Republicans that he has $20 million in campaign funds that he’s willing to spend against those who don’t support him.
New Mexico and New Hampshire also face right-to-work-for-less battles with challenges to prevailing wage also in play in West Virginia and Nevada.
“These attacks on union and non-union workers’ wages and labor standards don’t happen in isolation, says BAC President James Boland. “They’re orchestrated across state lines, the work of corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and National Association of Manufacturers not to mention corporate-fueled groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Tax Reform, and Koch groups like Americans for Prosperity.”
“The ability of unions and our members to organize, mobilize, get out the vote, and provide the only counterbalance to the growing concentration of wealth in this country is through our ability to have a say in our wages and conditions through collective bargaining – this is what these groups are targeting. It has nothing to do with so-called “right to work” or job creation and we have to hit back with equal determination and coordination,” added Boland.