Despite populist talk about uplifting America’s forgotten workers, the Trump Administration and Republican Congress are preparing to stick it to the American worker, particularly Latino workers. Over 60 percent of Latinos earn less than $15 an hour. As Republicans set their anti-labor priorities, workers of color and women will suffer.
President Trump’s Labor Secretary nominee, fast food chief Andrew Puzder, has a terrible record of defending low-wage workers’ capability to bargain for just treatment and decent pay. Congressional Republicans have introduced a sweeping national-right-to-work bill, jumping on a national campaign to destroy organized labor’s ability to protect low-wage workers. If Trump and other Republicans sincerely care about ‘the forgotten worker,’ they should abandon any allegiance to right-to-work.
Right-to-work laws break the financial backbone of organized labor. The policy is sold as freeing workers. It does anything but. It allows workers to benefit from bargaining done on behalf of unions without paying dues. It’s a resource drain for unions. Instead of contesting unjust treatment, unions must defend non-dues-paying payers. Sadly, for many Republicans that’s the point. It weakens organized labor and emboldens abusive employers.
With this policy, workers get less. Workers living outside of right-to-work states on average hourly earn 16 percent more than those in them.
Right-to-work’s origins are sinister, rooted in fanning the flames of racial division and weakening worker solidarity.
Right-to-work laws emerged prior and during the freedom struggles of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1947, a Republican Congress spurred this trend, amending federal law to allow states to weaken unions. Right-to-work leader, Texas businessman and white supremacist Vance Muse, disliked unions because they had the potential to boost worker solidarity and livelihoods of workers across racial lines. During this period more trade unions were organizing workers of color. Southern segregationists knew this, ushering in waves of right-to-work laws to counter union organizing drives across the union and incite racial division amongst workers.
Dr. Martin Luther King famously opposed the anti-worker intent of these laws, linking them to racism: “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right-to-work’. It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy unions…”
Twenty-eight states are right-to-work. It’s no coincidence that states most in opposition to unions are those that comprised the Confederacy and Jim Crow South. What’s worse is that it’s now law in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Right–to-work particularly cripple workers of color and women. Our working class is increasingly diverse and comprised of wage-earning Latinos, African Americans and working women. Low-wage workers across right-to-work states earn less and get worse benefits than those residing outside those states.
Unions still ensure economic security for low-wage households and boosting union power makes a dent in the racial wealth gap. African-Americans are much more likely to be unionized today than any other group. Black low-wage union workers earn 19 percent more than their non-union peers, according to the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR). In Illinois, a state under threat from right-to-work legislation, 26 percent of Black workers are in unions. Whites make up over 15 percent. Gutting unions means hurting Black households.
Women disproportionately make up the low-wage workforce. Destabilizing unions hurts women’s equality and widens the wage gap between men and women. Unionized female workers earn $231 weekly more than their non-union counterparts.
Finally, Latino families are in danger as right-to-work becomes law. Unionized Latino men earn 30 percent more than their non-union peers, according to the CEPR. Unionized Latina workers earn $2.79 more per hour than their peers. Union membership is driving better benefits for many Latino households, at least those that are eligible for them. It’s been a challenge for Latinos to join unions. For those that do, the benefits speak for themselves. Gutting labor means punishing Latino workers.
Trump may be our 45th President and have Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress. Republicans may hold historic levels of state power across the nation. The entire Republican Party appears dead-set on harming Latino households and breaking-up immigrant families.
And yet, there’s renewed civic energy and activism to confront these backward agendas. This energy can be targeted to protect low-wage Latinos and other vulnerable workers.
The U.S. Senate must reject Andrew Puzder’s nomination to be our next Labor Secretary. It’s clear from his record that he won’t protect workers against exploitation or abuse. We must defeat national right-to-work proposals from becoming federal law. We have to stop the proposal from spreading across the country; just this month, Missouri became a right-to-work state.
Momentum around a national right-to-work law is the culmination of years of assault that divide low-wage workers based on race while empowering abusive employers. With historic levels of income-inequality and wage stagnation, low-wage workers have been pummeled enough. Working families have no choice but to resist Trump and phony Republican proposals that promise jobs but ruin lives.
Grab a marker, make a sign. Join a protest. Get your state and congressional representative’s office phone number handy. It’s time to make some noise. Workers are entering the fight of their lives.
Vijay Das is a Washington-based writer and policy advocate. Follow him @vijdas