‘Right to work’ a right to low wage

I am writing in response to an opinion piece published in the Herald Business Journal on March 31, titled “Right-to-work effort under way in state.”

In this commentary there was use of double-speak language that insinuated that unions were somehow “un-American,” and that unions were somehow the antithesis of freedom. Both accusations could not be further from the truth.

I am a union carpenter, and I made the choice to become union. Nobody forced me, it was 100 percent my choice. I made this choice many years ago, and I am grateful that I did. That choice provided me with a wage decent enough to raise my family, to buy my house, to give back to my community, and put my children through school.

One may even say that my choice to become union helped me and my family achieve the American Dream. Furthermore, unions provide one of the most democratic and free systems in the country- I have the freedom to vote on my representation, distribution of wage increases, who to endorse in political races, our union’s leadership, collective bargaining agreements, which community organizations to support, down to whether or not to hang a banner at a local Little League field. I also have the choice to opt out of my dues money going to political races, if I so choose, just like every union member in the country; that is Federal Law. To claim “right to work” is about freedom, or the “American way” is a lie; Right to work laws are about nothing more than stagnating wages for working families, and weakening organized labor.

For proof of this we need to look no further than our neighbor to the East. Since passage of Idaho’s “right to work” laws, Idaho has worked its way down to the state with the lowest personal wealth in the nation, and per-capita personal income increased at a slower rate since its passage according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Nationwide studies, including a 2011 study by the Economic Policy Institute found that wages in “right to work” states are 3.2 percent lower than states that allow free bargaining. The study also states that employer sponsored health care, and retirement significantly decreases. While some advocates for these laws do so under the guise of “job growth,” the same nationwide study showed that job growth increased at an almost insignificant rate higher than in free bargaining states. Is this what we want in our state? A few more jobs, at a cost of lower wages, and lower personal wealth for everyone? Many people in Idaho are working two low-wage jobs because wages there are unlivable. The passage of “right to work” in Washington might just create the second job you need to live in our wonderful state.

Unions have always been advocates for family-wage jobs for all working people, whether you belong or not. Union membership numbers have always directly correlated with wage equality. When union membership is high, working families (union or not) bring home more money. Between 1940 and 1960 when union membership was at a peak, working families saw the highest percentage of profit and income being returned to them. As states passed laws hindering union membership, real wages to working families have declined. According to the National Woman’s Law Center, Unions are also responsible for eliminating the wage gap between women and men. “Right to work” should be called what it is: a right to work for less.

We all know that when working families earn a decent wage, there is more money going back into the community. When families earn more, they spend more at local small businesses or restaurants, and take advantage of services and entertainment the community has to offer. Of course with more being spent, more is subject to sales tax. When revenues are high, we put more tax dollars in to building schools for our children, providing public services and repairing infrastructure. This then creates demand for more workers, which starts the whole cycle over again. But it all starts with wages. When wages are higher for working families, everyone benefits. When states pass laws to stifle union membership, and wage growth, the economic outlook becomes bleak.

I am not fooled by misnomers like “right to work,” and I know many Washingtonians are not either. We do not need to join the race to the bottom with Idaho. A rising tide raises all ships, just like a sinking tide lowers those same ships. These types of laws are created to sink the tides, and stagnate wages for working families, thereby eliminating any hope of achieving the American Dream.

Miguel Perry is a resident of Lake Stevens.

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