Right-to-Work: Reply to Gary Kraeger: Community Columnist, Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel

Mr. Gary Kraeger: Comunity Columnist for the Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel “Right to work is right policy, and Gov. Walker should lead” December 13, 2012 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Perspectives Page, 13A:

Your arguments are quite reasonable on the surface, but many questions were left unadressed in your piece.

First, though more competitive in attracting jobs and more rapid growth, right-to-work states statistically by more than one econometric study attract predominately low-wage retail, service-sector jobs to these states. On average, workers in these states make $1,500 less in Gross Annual Income. That has a direct economic impact upon the health of middle class customers for businesses in these states, leaving them with significantly less disposable income to provide a sustainable market and drive strong consumer demand for what state businesses have to sell.

Second, as has been widely noted in national news reporting, seven of ten right-to-work states are among the poorest states in the American Union with only one being among the wealthiest.

Third, the manner in which Wisconsin’s move away from collective bargaining rights for public sector workers was handled in 2011 and the way it was just done in Michigan with right-to-work legislation required the locking of doors to both State capitol buildings, in Wisconsin’s case in direct violation of the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin, and in Michigan, requiring a court order to open the doors so the citizenry of that State could see in the light of day what their government was doing in secret. The recent legislation in Michigan was passed without a single committe hearing on the two bills brought up for consideration and a vote. There was no floor debate. And the Governor of the State Rick Snyder had told Unions in that state that such a measure was not on his agenda, that it would be far too divisive, and not significatnly add to the jobs climate he was seeking to address. In short, he lied just as Governor Walker deceived voters, the press, and the State when he unexpectedly put forward an end to most collective bargaining rights for State workers in Wisconsin in 2011, after running for his office in a statewide election where in October of 2010 he was pointedly asked in a large press conference if he would seek such legislation and his answer was a plain and emphatic “No.”

It must be asked that if a law must be passed in the dead of night or unexpectedly without notice, and customary committee and public hearings on the bill along with floor debate are eliminated by the party in the majority, what does that say about the democratic process we so value as Americans, and the moral rightness and true popularity of such a set of laws?

And as for the ability of Unions to make Twinkies, that remains unimpaired to this day so long as the management of the company does not run it into the ground in two bankruptcies, where a venture capital firm loots company assets and the very same people responsible for the firm’s decline are rewarded with bonuses. It must be noted that the revival of the auto industry in the United States was made possible by Unions that deftly and flexibly took significant wage cuts and benefit cuts to pensions and health care benefits to make their companies more competitive. The United Auto Workers helps produce cars in this country that more than compete with other firms.

Unions have had a signifcant impact for the better historically in America’s long past. They have raised wage standards making the American middle class a reality in the Twentieth-century. They raise the standard of professionalism in the workplace. They provide working people with a voice about what happens to them in their workplace but not extending to control over individually owned and publicly owned and traded corporations in America. They are most often run democratically with leaders down to the shop-steward level being elected and responsible to rank-in-file Union members. Decisions on dues, negotiating tactics and goals are decided in and by the votes of the worker’s own elected representatives, mimicking our larger American democratic experiment. Unions have provided the main impetus for government to enact laws protecting worker safety and ending child labor in this country. They have helped further causes of racial and ethnic equality, along with gender equality in America. These are historically well documented outcomes.

Economic historians have long written in study after study, as have economists, that wage rates and the general health of America’s middle class, the lifeblood of our nation and economy and a signficiant portion of the tax base to operate government, has thrived in absolute and direct relation to the level of Unionization in the United States. It is notable also that Germany, a nation that remains highly Unionized and where wages are high, remains more than competitive in many key industrial and technologically advanced areas. This is hardly an endorsement of America becoming Europe. We rejected that at our founding in 1776. But it does show that Unionization is not a sufficient impediment to prevent a nation and its businesses from remaining economically competitive.

While Michigan was still a Union state, and Wisconsin yet had a strong public sector Union environment with protections for collective bargaining rights, United States corporations in 2010, just a year or perhaps two from the greatest economic depression since the 1930’s, realized the largest profits ever recorded in American history. Unions did not prevent this from occurring. It happened and corporate profits are rising still.

Historically, the greatest period of prosperity materially for the American people was the period from World War II to 1980. Oddly, when the American middle class and consumer demand in the American marketplace was the envy of the entire world–and we enjoyed unprecendeted economic growth and health Unions in the United States were at the peak of their strength–between 30 and 35 percent of the workforce being Unionized and American firms being more than competitive worldwide.

The coming of the global marketplace may not have required the end of Unions in the United States. It may have been and most importantly may still be simply having the will to make changes in business operations and Unions showing the kind of flexibility that the Auto Workers just did to keep the United States competitive economically and Unions and the American Middle Class strong and healthy.


Dr. Thomas Martin Sobottke
Adjunct Professor/History
Carroll University

5 thoughts on “Right-to-Work: Reply to Gary Kraeger: Community Columnist, Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel

  1. Okay I’m confused, if Right To Work is a good thing why is everyone calling it union busting? I cannot find any news about it that makes sense to me, Right To Work sounds like a good thing

    • Editor Struggles for Justice:

      Great question Rain. Right-to-work allows workers who are protected under Union contracts to decline to pay Union dues. That weakens the strength of the Union and pits Unionized workers against non-unionized workers. A divided workplace makes it easier for anti-union political parties and politicians and employers to push labor unions out of the workplace in the longer term.

      It must be stated emphatically that Unions do not get into a workplace until a Unionization vote is taken by everybody who works in that workplace and a majority must say “Yes” to making it a Union workplace and affiliating with a labor union. That is democracy at work. The National Labor Relations Board or NLRB under the old 1935 Wagner Act, a Federal law that gives Unions the legal right to organize–to do this very thing, and to bargain collectively with their employer is what it is all about.

      Of course labor unions know how to organzie people for a common purpose. Republicans hate labor unions. Democrats are far more supportive of the labor movement. If you cut existing Unions down to size as above with right-to-work and the Union dues collected dry up, not only do Unions have trouble representing their members in the workplace so their voices might be heard, but the Democratic Party loses a big engine of getting out the vote for Democrats in elections.

      The Republicans have the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and numerous corporate sponsored groups like the Koch Brothers Americans for Prospoerity SUPERPAC to help them. That SUPERPAC just spent 18 million dollars AFTER the fall elections to convince people what the legislature did in Michigan was right. Of course the ad buys were all set in place just as the Michigan legislature took up bills that nobody thought were coming at all.

      Is the picture becoming clearer Rain? These Right-to-work laws hurt workers and their Unions. And they do not create good family supporting jobs. They statistically amount to a $1,500 removal from a well paid working man or woman’s pocket to support corprorate profits.

      Now what say ye to that?

      Struggles for Justice

      • I agree to protect workers from Unions who may, I say may, abuse their members for not paying a due or not being a member. I agree if it will get a hard working worker fair and honest employment without a threat from other workers or the employer. If this legislation accomplishes that then it has my endorsement and if not and it is a threat to everyone and can allow for employer abuse for the sake of THEIR profit then no I totally condemn it in its entirety. I want to see American Jobs go to American workers in America not China, Indian, SE Asia or anywhere else.

  2. Wonderful blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News.
    Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News?

    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there!
    Appreciate it

    • Just keep blogging. Lots of tags. And replies to the editor. This occurred without my agency. It did however, due to blog activity over time. Thanks for finding your way here.

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