By TOM WROBLEWSKI
(Aug. 5, 2013) — You have a right to a better life.
It says so, right there in the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson wrote, all those years ago, that each and every single American has the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” All the Founding Fathers signed off on it, and every generation since has believed in the idea that we have the right to pursue safer jobs, better pay, better health for ourselves, better homes for our families and better futures for our children – whatever it takes for us to be happy.
For all 33,000 of us in District 751, that pursuit of happiness has been made easier by the fact that we’ve joined together in a union, which helps us bargain for the things that can make our lives better.
That’s why it’s so frustrating to hear the recent talk about making Washington a “Right to Worse” state.
That’s not a typo, by the way. I’m calling the anti-union law that one Republican Legislator has proposed a “Right to Worse” law because that’s exactly what the result would be: Worse pay and benefits for more than 400,000 union workers in the short term, and a declining standard of living for all Washington residents that would get worse and worse as the years went by.
First, let’s talk about the concept behind Right to Worse laws.
A lot of people call them right-to-work laws, which is the slick name that some anti-union advertising genius dreamed up years ago. Despite the name, they don’t grant workers any rights, they take rights away, and they absolutely don’t guarantee you any work.
Washington has long been a state that believes workers have rights at work, but even so, every year for as long as I can remember, someone in Olympia has come to the Legislature and proposed a Right to Worse bill. Up to this point, these bills have always died a quiet death; nobody would ever sign on as a co-sponsor of the bill, and no committees would ever have hearings on them. All that would happen is that the legislator who proposed the bill would be able to brag about what an anti-union tough guy he or she is, and use that to try to convince anti-union donors to give more money to his campaign.
But this year is a little different. We’ve got the one anti-union legislator talking about a Right to Worse law, as usual, but this time, one aerospace industry analyst has agreed with him. Having TWO people talk in favor of Right to Worse laws, instead of just one, is so unusual that it has spawned a couple of stories in Seattle area newspapers and radio stations about the growing Right to Worse “debate” in our state.
One of the big problems, of course, is that none of the reporters have really bothered to look into what a horribly bad idea Right to Worse laws are, and what the awful implications would be for our state in general and all of us who pay taxes out of our paychecks in particular.
The goal of the people who push so hard for Right to Worse laws is they want to weaken unions. Conservative politicians who support Big Business think that if they can weaken unions, it will weaken their opponents, who are the kinds of progressive candidates that unions support.
So to make it easier for them to get elected to powerful political posts, these Conservative politicians are willing to inflict huge damage on every single person in our state who works for a living.
Because make no mistake, if Washington ever became a Right to Worse state, it absolutely would make your jobs, your paychecks and your family’s future worse.
While Right to Worse laws target unions, the damage they do is felt by everyone.
Lots of people point to South Carolina, but I say just look next door at Idaho, which has been a Right to Worse state since the 1980s. Pay levels in Idaho are below national averages, largely because there are few strong unions there. Average household incomes in Right to Worse states are as much as $7,000 a year less than in Rights at Work states like Washington.
The schools aren’t as good as Washington’s. That’s because Right to Worse states like Idaho spend about $2,500 per pupil less. And any of our Local 86 members who have driven to Idaho to go skiing in the winter can tell you that Idaho communities have far less money to spend on maintaining their roads, compared to Washington.
Worst of all, Right to Worse states have rates of workplace fatalities that are nearly 50 percent higher, in large part because there aren’t strong unions in those states to fight for workplace safety laws. And, sadly, Right to Worse states also have 15 percent higher infant mortality rates, probably because barely half of their parents have health insurance through their jobs.
So it’s pretty clear that having a Right to Worse law would be bad for Washington state residents, whether they’re part of a union or not. It also would do little to help us in our efforts to grow our state’s aerospace industry. Again, look at Idaho. That state has only two community colleges that provide the kind of advanced manufacturing skills training that Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges provide.
Without that kind of training infrastructure, aerospace companies won’t be able to find enough qualified workers to meet current production rates – let alone the higher rates that Boeing executives are talking about. And if Washington were to become a Right to Worse state, we couldn’t support that kind of job training.
Right to Worse isn’t right for workers, not in Washington, not in any state. As an organization, this union will fight it, and I call on you as individual members to do your part to ensure our children will be able to pursue their own future happiness with the support of a strong labor movement.
Tom Wroblewski is President of Machinists District 751. This column, which appears in the current edition of the IAM 751’s AeroMechanic newsletter, is posted here with the author’s permission.