Predictably, Fox News’ “business block” used the holiday weekend (which honors labor) to smear labor unions. The Cashin’ In show argued that right-to-work laws create jobs while unions destroy them. Sadly, the lone Democrat offered up only a milquetoast-y, uninformed defense.
The pretext for the discussion was the owner of the nation’s oldest brewery urging Pennsylvania to pass right-to-work laws. Instead of doing any real reporting on the issue - or even noting how such a move might be self-serving for a business owner - Fox turned it into one of their “fair and balanced” debates. The kind in which three guests plus the host (not to mention the subject of the discussion) were anti-union and one guest was kinda-sorta, pro union.
Guest Michelle Fields bought in. She said, “I think every state ought to be a right-to-work state. Look, workers should be able to work wherever they want without having to join a union. Why should a worker have to go and pay dues to a union and then that union takes that money to support candidates and campaigns that they may or may not support.”
Democrat Eboni K. Williams said, “I don’t think that we need to go that broad, Eric, but I do see Michelle’s point. And I don’t like that concept of taking union dues and supporting candidates, sometimes unvoluntarily (sic). But I do think unions do do good things. I do think there is something to be said for collective bargaining, and someone advocating for, you know, work conditions and things like that. So, again, I think it should be up to individual states on this one.”
Had Williams bothered to do any homework, she might have known that it’s not clear that right-to-work laws help employment. In a Salon.com article subtitled, “Michigan passes an anti-union law and claims it’s good for workers. Economists say sure—if you own the company,” Alex Seitz-Wald wrote:
Indeed, Michael Hicks, the director of the Center for Business and Economic at Ball State University in Indiana, is used to people drawing different conclusions from the same data. “This is an easy subject to demagogue when looking solely at the data.” He noted that on one hand, states without right-to-work laws have higher per-capita incomes and higher unionization rates. But on the other hand, states with the laws have faster-growing economies, and faster-growing incomes. “These facts provide endless grist for politicians, and are difficult for voters to decompose, since clearly higher incomes and faster growth are both desirable.”
Jonathan Hoenig, the self-styled “Capitalist Pig,” had some stats to throw around. “It didn’t help the longshoremen, it didn’t help the General Motors workers,” He said. “States like Kansas and Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma all have unemployment rates either at 5% or below, Eric. They’re all right to work states. Right to work is just implicit in the right to life. …We often talk about unions as simply parasites, and this is the best example of how they really are.”
Wayne Rogers jumped in on the same side, adding, “We know that, for example, from 1998-2008 Texas gained over a million jobs and Ohio lost 10,000. Texas a right to work state, Ohio is not.”
Bolling gave Williams another chance. He said, “Eboni, earlier you had said unions do good things. Can you help me out? What, exactly, do they do?”
Williams said, “They can help people in terms of advocating, because some people can’t do that on their own.”
With a straight face, Fields argued against that. She said, “It’s actually better to have an individual bargain on their behalf and for their specific needs. …Right to work is pro freedom and it’s pro worker, and collective bargaining, it’s not pro freedom, it’s not good.”
Hoenig continued the argument: “I just disagree that unions have been some great beneficiary. Ask the textile workers, ask the longshoremen, the steel workers, GM workers. None of them have been helped by any of those union efforts.”
Bolling backed that up. He said, “You make a very good point, Jonathan. Look, what the unions, the UAW did in Detroit in Michigan. …They literally drove the auto industry down South to right-to-work states.”
It's noteworthy that rather than cheering for high-paid workers in the auto industry, Bolling was cheering on a company that picked up and moved in order to pay them less.
But here’s another point from the Salon article that Williams could have made but didn’t:
The real effect (of right-to-work laws), some experts said, will come in the form of worse pensions and benefits deals for public sector workers. That will be helpful to state balance sheets, but is bad for state workers. Voters in some states may consider that a valid reason to pass right-to-work laws, but it’s certainly not the reason Michigan Republicans are giving for their effort.
Driving the point home, Bolling closed the segment by saying, “We are all pro business on this show.”
As if we would not have known.
“The Cashin’ In show argued that right-to-work laws create jobs……”
Yes, they sure do — AT ROCKBOTTOM WAGES!
The reason the right wing hates unions isn’t because they think they aren’t good for the employees. It isn’t because the right wing is concerned at all about whether the average employee gets a voice in how they are treated or paid at work. And it isn’t because the right wing is trying to “create jobs”. Frankly, the right wing has never shown much of an interest in any of those areas.
The right wing hates unions because they wish the companies could find a way to pay their employees less and give them less in the way of benefits. The right wing hates unions because the companies don’t like having to accede to workers’ needs for a safe and liveable workplace, or to workers’ needs for a pension and a health plan. The right wing would be very happy to go back to a time when companies could pay employees a bare minimum and not need to worry about silly things like pension plans or healthcare options. Because those things cost the people who run the companies a little more money, and they’d rather have that money for themselves. It’s really that simple.
The right wing hates the public sector unions because at this point, they’re probably the most visible and effective unions we have left in the US. Gutting the public sector unions’ pensions and destroying their wage structures would send a powerful message to employees and union members everywhere – if we can do it to these guys, we can do it to you too. And while there is an argument to be made that a bad economy makes it a lot harder for states to fulfill their obligations, that doesn’t mean that the states should simply abandon their contracts with the people who police their cities, put out their fires and teach their children. There are always adjustments that can be made to contracts with each negotiation – but the right wing goal clearly is to simply get rid of them. Witness the union busting tactics in Michigan and Wisconsin over the last couple of years – this will only get worse as time goes on if nobody challenges it. Witness also that the right wingers in Congress have made it their business to do nothing to try to help the economy recover – since such an act would only help both the public sector employees and President Obama. Allowing the recession to effectively continue through obstruction and inaction both gives them an opening to attack the unions more and more openly and gives them yet another stick to poke the President with.
It’s truly sad that the only person on this panel who didn’t want to refer to the unions as toxic couldn’t cite the basic reasons why unions exist. Unions exist because without them workers would be forced to live in conditions that history has shown to be vicious for them and for society in general. Without unions, workers would be paid as close to minimum wage as the companies could get away with, overtime pay would be fairly nonexistent even when workers did that work, workplace safety conditions would be spotty at best, and workers would be on their own, individually, to come up with a way to take care of their own retirement and healthcare from a minimum wage. The presence of unions has meant that employee members have been able to receive a decent wage for their work, have a safer and more livable workplace where they can’t just be fired at the boss’ whim, and have the employer join them in supporting a health and pension plan.
The final red herring in the right wing discussion is always about the workers who don’t want to join unions as their own decision but who must join based on their profession. We always hear the canard about the union dues going to support politicians the right wingers don’t like. And there’s an answer to this. Anyone who doesn’t want to politically support a union can be a financial core member – where they don’t have to have anything to do with what the union does politically or internally, and they can simply participate in the wage and benefit levels. This is considered an anti-social move, to be sure. But people who hate union members have never been worried about that problem in the first place.
I note that Eric Bolling is a member of SAG-AFTRA and enjoys the benefits of that in his own health and pension plans, beyond the overscale salary he is paid by Fox News. I wonder how he’d react if someone told him they were going to take away the pension plan he’d already been paying into for the past ten years. Because that’s what he’s advocating for other people.