The question this morning over at KULR in Billings is; “Many Montanans are wondering if our own state could pass right to work legislation now that Michigan lawmakers have decided to do so.” I would say that with recent developments in Michigan, you can almost count on the subject coming up in the 2013 Montana legislature.
Montana is one of 26 states with no right to work laws, which many are calling “the right to work for less” and which my favorite cognitive linguist George Lakoff refers to as Corporate Servitude Laws. As you can see from the graph, there is a direct linkage between middle class wages and percentage of union membership. Michigan has been one of the most heavily unionized states with 17.5% of its workers belonging to unions in a country where, overall only about 7% of workers are organized and that percentage has been dropping for decades..
Proponents of these Corporate Servitude laws argue that weakening unions will bring more jobs to their state. Well DUH! Of course companies want to move to states where they can to pay lower wages and fewer benefits. As Jeff Greenfield, president of the Billings Education Association reminds us, “Through history, we have a five day workweek. That was because of the unions and union contracts. Holidays, child labor laws, benefit packages; those things are good for every employee,” Add to those benefits, pensions, equal pay, overtime pay and better working conditions. Those are all things that we would likely not have if not for the power of labor unions. Good for employees may not necessarily be good for corporations. And, you might notice that these laws are always pushed by Republican lawmakers and their corporate overlords because they see less union membership as a way to weaken support for Democrats.
“The deeper truth about unions is that they don’t just create and maintain rights for workers; they work for and create crucial rights in society as a whole. Unions created weekends, the eight-hour workday and health benefits. And through their politics, they have been at the center of support for civil rights and other social justice issues. In short, unions don’t just work for their members. They work for all of us. Including businesses: Workers are profit creators.”
Of course the phrase “right to work” was chosen because it sounds all touchy-feely like it is giving choice to wage earners when exactly the reverse is true. Remember that once you buy in to the conservative framing of the argument, you are also buying the conservative definition. Calling these ill-advised laws by their name and not something like Corporate Servitude Laws gives the idea more legitimacy not only in the minds of others, but in your own mind as well. The more we use the conservative terminology, the more we strengthen the conservative ideology and the more actual “rights” we stand to lose. Words matter.
When you see this bill come up from the conservative hit squad on the far right side of the aisle in Helena next month, remember this legislation does not confer “rights”, it takes them away from Montana workers and will only make our economy ever weaker.