Last night as Republicans sought to pass a “right to work” bill in Missouri, over 500 workers packed the state Senate gallery, reminding lawmakers of the 5000 anti-union bill protesters who filled Kiener Plaza last week. Republicans were unable to even gather enough support to bring their anti-union bill to a vote.
Republicans tried to argue that states with “right to work” laws have less unemployment, but this argument didn’t pass muster with the majority let alone the observers, who know that states with “right to work” laws have a lower income threshold for all workers, not just union workers, and that those states tend to perform more poorly in other areas as well.
While research on unions’ impact on the economic status of states is scant (dating back to a Harvard study in 1988), Richard Florida of The Atlantic undertook the task and just yesterday published his results. Florida found:
Unionized states are better-off economically than non-unionized states. While it’s probably not surprising that unionization levels are correlated with higher hourly wages (.48), they are also correlated with higher incomes across the board–and the correlation between union membership and median income is substantial (.45). To put it baldly, unions are associated with the country’s economic winners, not its losers. And it’s not that unionized states work more–unionization is negatively correlated with hours worked (-.36). States with higher levels of union membership work less hours per week but make more money–higher levels of union memberships are positively correlated with wage per hour (.48).
That said, unionization does not appear to mitigate the effects of inequality or to protect against unemployment, according to our analysis. There is no correlation whatsoever between union membership and income inequality. Union membership is not correlated with unemployment, either.
Florida also found that while people associate unions with blue collar workers, “…unionization levels are higher in states with more highly educated workforces and knowledge based economies.” So basically, states with unions have high median income and unions are found in states with better economies than “right to work” states. “Right to work” means you have a right to work for slave wages. The question we should all be asking ourselves is why do Republicans feel they have to mislead people in order to get support for their “ideas”?
Their attempts to mislead Missourians did not work. The AFL-CIO reported on the failure of the anti-union bill in Missouri:
Senate minority leader Victor Callahan (D) said supporters of right to work for less legislation who claim it will attract more businesses to the state might as well be arguing “let us race to become more competitive by emulating the Third World…
“Through unions and good jobs we created a middle class. The middle class didn’t cause recession, Big Banks did.”
Tweeting from last night’s session, Missouri AFL-CIO communications director Cathy Sherwin noted that opposition to the bill crossed party lines, including Sen. Kevin Engler (R) who said his parents’ union membership benefited both the family and the state.
“Because my parents had good union benefits, my parents are going into a nursing home with NO state benefits needed at no cost to state.”
Senate leaders said they would not bring the bill back up this week and it was uncertain it if would be on the agenda after the legislature’s spring break next week.
The Republicans are having more trouble than they anticipated in selling their false memes about unions. It seems the Republicans miscalculated the probability of their success with their 2011 anti-union shock and awe campaign.
Florida’s research found that “…While many continue to think of unions as the province of blue-collar working class economies, less than one in five workers in Rustbelt states – Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio–belongs to a union. Union states have more knowledge-intensive economies, boast more highly educated workforces, and have higher incomes as well.” His data may indicate where Republicans miscalculated.
Republicans, it seems, are using data from the 1988 Harvard study in their attempt to suggest that unions are bad for the economy. Of course, even this is disingenuous, as unions have always existed in states where the median income levels of all residents are higher, regardless of individual affiliation with a union. We see proof of this in protests around the country — it’s not just union members protesting, it’s the middle class in general.
It’s clear from Florida’s study that union membership has migrated into higher income tentacles of the work force. It would be interesting to see how many of those middle “white collar” workers used to vote Republican – because this is supposed to be their base – the upper income middle, and yet as 2008 showed, those voters flocked to Barack Obama. Florida’s data dispels the entire Republican meme about lazy liberals who support unions because they don’t like to work, though the fact that we even have to address this attempt at class warfare is contemptuous; it shouldn’t matter which class are represented by unions — all classes should be entitled to fair working conditions and a voice at the table. And no matter whom unions represent, the folks who built unions were the working class, the blue collar workers; they fought with their lives for collective bargaining. The truth is that what used to be a war of the haves against the have nots has become the war of the have-mores against the rest of America.
The Republicans attempt to dismantle unions across this country was a gamble that is not going to end well for them. Not only did they offend the deep-seated and shared values of fairness and hard work instilled in Midwesterners, but they attacked what they’ve long claimed to be their own “base,” — the hard working upper middle, those “mom and pops.” They are, however, catering to their real voters – the poorer, uneducated segment of Americans, who are more easily manipulated to believe that the reason they are out of work is because some evil union thug took their job, rather than the far too often truth that Republican fiscal policies are keeping their Southern red state broke and begging for federal money that gets funneled to private contractor buddies of smug, sanctimonious, golf-playing Southern Republican elites who tell their starving constituents that “God will provide what the state will not.” The ironies never cease.
Missouri is one state where the Republicans can’t even get past “Go” with their anti union busting measures. One thing Republicans don’t understand is that when it comes to fairness and issues of basic human rights, they can’t divide the blue and white collar workers like they continue to try to do. Teachers stand with teamsters who stand with farmers who stand with musicians and they all object to this outrageous assault on human liberty and long fought for rights.
The Republicans are uniting Reagan Democrats and conservatives and liberal Democrats and independents with their morally offensive strike against fair working conditions. They might be able to fool their base, but they are not fooling the common sense voter. Unions may not be perfect, but they are necessary and they are a right workers are entitled to. This fact is not up for debate among civilized company, no matter what the scheming plastic barbies on Fox tell their cult who then spew talking point hatred at their fellow Americans.
Unions are American as apple pie. Unions represent liberty and freedom. Unions represent the very notion of opportunity through hard work that this country stands for. Unions also represent the only shot the middle class has –unionized or not. Keep your union rights, states. It’s the only economic protection you have against the greedy corporate wolf at the door.
Image: KSDK NewsChannel 5