The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 12, 2014

Union busters want to get a grip on Labor Day

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

Don’t look now, but the union haters are muscling in on Labor Day.

On Labor Day, 2012, then-Republican U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor paid tribute to the American worker in his own unique fashion. By ignoring them. And fawning over business owners.

“Today,” he tweeted, “we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.”

This year, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation – devoted to spreading right-to-work (for less) laws from coast to coast – offered holiday greetings of their own. Did they offer even a grudging acknowledgment of the accomplishments of the American worker? Naah.

“This Labor Day,” said the group’s president, Mark Mix, “many workers will enjoy a well-deserved long weekend. But as we celebrate the gains for workplace freedoms workers have made across the country, union officials are working aggressively to protect and expand their forced dues powers through government fiat.

“This year, National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys have assisted tens of thousands of workers nationwide achieve victories for workplace freedom. In America’s newest right to work state, a growing number of workers from across Michigan are joining the fight to protect their right to work free from union compulsion.”

A few days before Labor Day, the conservative Mackinac Center – formerly just a think-tank and now an activist in pushing radical right policies – made a media splash by “helpfully” reminding Michigan’s public school teachers that under their contract, August was the only month they could opt out of paying their union dues.

And as if Labor Day wasn’t being commandeered enough by those who would destroy organized labor, this was written last month by Igor Volsky of Think Progress.

A conservative think tank is protesting the federal Labor Day holiday by staging a work-in on Labor Day in a gambit to celebrate “the freedom to keep your job when you choose not to join a union.”

“We’re calling it Right-to-Work Day,” Tom McCabe, CEO of Washington state’s Freedom Foundation, announced in a post on the organization’s website. The name refers to an effort by conservative lawmakers across the country to advance so-called “right-to-work” legislation that would allow union members to opt out of paying union dues while still benefiting from union contracts.

“At the Freedom Foundation, we celebrate freedom of choice and transparency – ideals the labor movement has vowed to oppose. Consequently, we’ve chosen to spend our holiday honoring the right-to-work movement instead,” the post says. McCabe goes on to argue that all problems in society can be “traced in some way back to the abuses of organized labor.”

But according to research from the Economic Policy Institute, right-to-work laws — which have the impact of weakening unions and lowering union membership — have almost no impact on job growth and actually reduce wages for union and non-union workers by up to $1,500 a year. Workers are also less likely to receive “health care or pensions through their jobs” and are hurt on the job with greater frequency. “For instance, the occupational-fatality rate in the construction industry—one of the most hazardous in terms of workplace deaths—is 34 percent higher in right-to-work states than in states without such laws,” David Madland, Director of the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, notes.

Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894, after U.S. marshals killed two men in the ill-fated Pullman Strike, a railroad workers’ boycott against high rent and low pay. Government violence against the labor movement became a major political issue and “in the immediate wake of the strike, legislation was rushed unanimously through both houses of Congress, and the bill arrived on President [Grover] Cleveland’s desk just six days after his troops had broken the Pullman strike.” In the succeeding years, labor unions built political momentum to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act, which helped create a federal framework for a shorter workweek, helped end child labor, and worked to negotiate for health coverage plans from employers.

Though unionization rates have been in decline for years, a recent analysis of Census data by the Center for American Progress, found that middle class Americans bring home a larger share of aggregate earnings in states that have high rates of union membership than in those where fewer workers are organized.

With organized labor in such a weakened condition, will the next federal holiday become a national right-to-work day? Will Labor Day’s name get changed to Labor-Freedom Day?

Unlikely, but then, no one thought it was likely that Michigan would become a right-to-work state, either.