It’s been a little over a month since the election and Republicans are again attacking the middle class, this time in Michigan. Michigan, the home of the auto industry and the United Auto Workers Union, became the 24th “right to work” state on Tuesday, December 11, 2012. “Right to work” legislation in Michigan is Republican politicians’ attempts to revoke workers’ right to organize, dilute unions and the right to bargain collectively. Right to work is really the right to pay workers less money and benefits. Due to the hard work of unions, we got the 8 hour day, sick leave and vacation time. For many workers, they don’t think about these three significant work laws which were hard fought and won by unions.
Michigan Governor Rick Scott signed the bill almost immediately before the bill’s ink was dry. Michigan Democratic Party Chair, Mark Brewer stated ,” the people of Michigan will not forget how he abandoned working families…and “how the Republican legislature rushed through these bills with no committee hearing and little debate during the lame duck session.” The fight for 2014 begins today in Michigan.
The Michigan auto workers are showing us how unions are essential to building a strong American economy. Unions do not hurt people; they help workers. Despite Republican lawmakers such as Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and New Jersey governor Chris Christie and many others attempts to silence unions, the fight will continue against these tactics. These tactics are really meant to benefit corporate greed that wants to keep getting tax benefits while denying paying fair wages to workers.
Beyond fighting for workers’ rights, unions are a major arm in Democratic politics in fighting for civil rights, worker rights and the middle class. “Strong unions result in better jobs, a stronger economy, and a healthier community. The assault on Michigan’s working families will drive wages down and increase the income gap, especially for women, young workers and people of color, according to Melanie Campbell of the Black Women’s Roundtable.
American’s greatness is powered by our middle class—auto workers, nurses, construction workers and teachers. In companies where there are no unions, such as Walmart, often times, workers are paid less than a living wage and must rely on government subsidies to make ends meet. And they have no means to challenge unfair working conditions without risking getting fired. Unions help to ensure that workers receive a fair pay, helping to decease the income pay gap, particularly among women and people of color.
Right to work laws have no positive impact on job growth. Studies show these laws reduce wages by up to $1500 a year. Six of the 10 states with highest unemployment have right to work laws–further dispelling the myth that RTW laws help job growth.
Tuesday is a rally call for unions to do what they do best and fight against corporate greed and for a stronger America. Starting today, the fight for 2014 begins. It’s time to fight again to replace those politicians who vote against workers with ones who support prosperity for all and not a select few. The workers and people, who Mitt Romney referred to as the 47%, must continue to fight for a living and decent wage and working conditions. Despite what Republicans may think, that is the American way.
As the daughter of parents who respectively were members of AFCSME and AFL-CIO, I will continue to support unions and a fair and decent living wage and benefits for all workers. My parents were able to make a decent living wage and support our family due to the work of unions.
Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national, international and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, local NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post and Washington Times among others. She also contributes articles to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.