The march by GOP-controlled states
to take away rights from working families continues as newly emboldened
representatives and governors – elected with sweeping majorities – make their
first order of business to cut paychecks and limit the voices of workers.
|Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad speaks to the state’s board of education with Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds seated to his left. Branstad is pushing for a cutback in collective bargaining rights for public employees. He has been nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to China and Reynolds will succeed him when he’s confirmed.
New Hampshire is moving toward becoming the first New England state to pass a right-to-work law. In the meantime, such a law looks inevitable in Missouri, and as of Jan. 8, is in effect in Kentucky. Iowa has long been a right-to-work state, but likely soon will do away with most collective bargaining rights for public employees.
In each state, Republicans took over state government in January, and working families lost the firewall Democrats held against damaging legislation. Both union and nonunion workers in right-to-work states make 3.1 percent less on average than their counterparts in states that don’t have the law, according to a 2015 study by the Economic Policy Institute.
“As Republicans gain control, they come after us,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “That’s no coincidence. Their big donors demand it. We’re usually the last voice for those who go unheard and that’s why we won’t sit by quietly while these attacks continue.”
There’s also an ongoing battle over the right-to-work law passed last year in West Virginia, where the GOP controls the state Legislature.
Right-to-work laws allow employees to opt out of paying membership dues, even when they receive the benefits of a union contract. They undermine wages and living conditions for working families. They have become law since 2012 in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky, bringing the total number of states to 27. A national right-to-work law was introduced by two Republican members of Congress on Feb. 1.
They also hurt individuals in even the strongest unions. Being forced to represent employees who don’t pay for services can compromise resources used in collective bargaining and to defend workers’ rights on the job.
Fight Moves to New Hampshire House
|New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who has said he will sign a right-to-work law if passed by the state’s House and Senate. Photo provided under a Creative Commons agreement by Clint Clunie.
The New Hampshire Senate passed a right-to-work bill by a 12-11 margin on Jan. 19. The other chamber is less predictable, though the GOP has a 226-174 advantage.
Joe Casey, the Second District’s international representative for business development, noted that some Republicans in the House are union members, including several from the firefighters’ union. They often differ with more conservative members aligned with the tea party, he said.
“Democrats are in the minority when it comes to electing leadership,” Casey said. “But because Republicans are so split, we [organized labor] have become a factor. We’ve been able to keep someone from the extreme right out of the leadership position.”
That’s helped get some labor-friendly Republicans on the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee,, which meets to consider the Senate-passed bill on Feb. 10.
Casey said he’s confident that panel will vote it down. But a right-to-work law still will go to the full House, where pressure on Republicans without a direct link to labor to vote for it will be extreme.
Groups like Americans for Prosperity have increased their influence since Republicans took over both houses of the Legislature in 2010, he said. The group was founded in 2004 by the billionaire Koch brothers and has been an advocate for right-to-work laws ever since. Newly-elected Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has pledged to sign it.
“Asking any Republican to vote against right-to-work is like asking them to give up whatever political ambitions they have for the next two years,” Casey said. “It’s a big ask. They know if they vote as a Republican against it, they are going to be ostracized.”
Missouri Legislation Likely Headed to Governor
|Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who has said he will sign a right-to-work law if passed by the state’s House and Senate. Photo provided under a Creative Commons agreement by West Texas A&M University.
In Missouri, legislators are on the verge of sending a right-to-work bill to newly-elected Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who pledged to sign it during the campaign. Republicans have supermajorities in both the state House and Senate and bills passed easily in both chambers, even with a handful of GOP members crossing over to vote no.
The Senate version of the bill included a provision that exempts current collective bargaining agreements until they expire. The House bill does not, but that is not expected to keep legislation from being sent to Greitens’ desk, possibly by the end of this week.
Republicans have controlled the Missouri Legislature for years, but former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a right-to-work bill in 2015 and legislators failed to get the two-thirds vote to override it as required by state law. Missouri law prohibited Nixon from running for a third term last November.
“It’s just a very tough environment for us right now,” said Rudy Chavez, Missouri political coordinator and president of Kansas City Local 124.
The best bet for working families to fight back may come from a campaign started by the state’s AFL-CIO to get an initiative on the 2018 ballot that would essentially make right-to-work laws illegal in the state.
Missouri legislators also are expected to again pass so-called “paycheck protection” legislation, which many union members call “paycheck deception.” It requires union members to state in writing every year they want dues taken out of their paychecks. Both the Senate and the House passed a bill last year, but it was vetoed by Nixon.
Hawkeye State GOP Coming After Collective Bargaining
In Iowa, the state’s collective bargaining laws for public employees are expected to be gutted.. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has proposed removing health care insurance from collective bargaining..
Eleventh District International Representative Frank Gusta said some form of legislation that harms working families will be passed and signed into law. The IBEW represents about 400 public employees in the state.
Gusta said he thinks it’s a step toward limiting the collective bargaining rights for employees in the private sector. The IBEW and other unions will continue to protest and contact legislators.
“We’re going to lose,” said Gusta, the state’s political director. “There’s no question about it. But I don’t think we can sit back and let them think it’s going to be easy.”
Branstad, who has been nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to China, has long been in favor of cutting back on collective bargaining rights. His opening to do so came when Republicans got a majority in the state Senate last month, marking the first time the GOP has controlled the Iowa House, Senate and governor’s office since 1998. Branstad will be replaced by the Republican lieutenant governor once he is confirmed.
Court Battle continues in West Virginia dispute
In West Virginia, a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of that state’s right-to-work law is ongoing and is expected to be decided sometime this year. Plaintiffs in the case include six IBEW locals. The West Virginia Legislature passed a right-to-work law in 2016, overriding then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s veto.
A Kanawha County judge granted a temporary injunction last August that prevents the law from being enforced until the court makes a final decision.. She said there could be irreparable harm to unions and their members if it was enforced before the conclusion of legal proceedings.
West Virginians elected Democrat Jim Justice to replace Tomblin, but Republicans still control the Legislature and have shown no inclination to change the law.
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