In a glimpse of what could easily have happened in Minnesota and could yet occur, a Republican legislature and governor passed “right to work” laws in Michigan yesterday, one of the biggest union states in the nation yesterday.
Lawmakers did so with little debate and no hearings, ushering in laws that weaken both public and private sector unions. The argument for the law, which makes it illegal for union contracts to require membership or fair-share pay for collective bargaining, is that it makes business more competitive. The argument against is that this reduces wages and benefits, something widely seen in other states that have adopted this kind of law.
I get that there are two sides of this debate. What I don’t get is why this is remotely healthy for our national morale to pass laws affecting a large number of workers to benefit a small number of business owners. I respect business owners, having come from a long line of them, but I also come from a parallel line of blue-collar union workers. Why must my grandfather’s modest, lower middle-class life as a miner disabled on the job be held up for scorn in our national discourse? Why are we told he, or I or my sons should make less when the income disparity in this nation grows independent of all economic factors?
It’s very frustrating. I’d be much more open to conservative ideas if members of the conservative party weren’t openly contemptuous of the work my colleagues and I do in public schools and colleges. And they are. I see it all the time.
If you like the nonstop emotional wringer that our national politics have become, try putting the wages and benefits of millions of workers on the ballot every two years. Want a cost-of-living increase? Want your insurance rates to stay the same? It’s on the ballot. Every time. I don’t know that this is a healthy way to approach workers rights, and it creates very hurtful divisions in our communities and workplaces. It also stymies productive debate over the role of government and budgeting, because vengeance and fear are the only political commodities being traded. But it will nonetheless continue until the reckoning comes to pass.