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Standing Up Against Right-to-Work

Jul 9, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) urged his colleagues on the House floor to stand up against right-to-work laws and stand up for the right to organize, the right to a safe job, and the right to a fair wage.

Below is a video and transcript of the speech. 

Thank you Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, Ronald Reagan once said: “Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.”

When President Reagan made those remarks in 1980, he recognized then what many can’t seem to understand now:

Efforts to undermine unions are an attack on worker’s rights.

Unions have long been the foundation of our middle class and helped create the most competitive workforce in the world.

The 40 hour work week, minimum wage, sick leave, workers comp, overtime pay, child labor laws,

Those are just a few of the basic labor rights that unions have championed over the years that many now take for granted. 

Yet for all the good that unions have done to empower all workers across this country, there has been a recent revival in the war against them.

And the weapon of choice has been the right to work laws.

Don’t be fooled by the name.

The only thing right to work laws do is unfairly allow free riding workers to benefit from union negotiated contracts without having to contribute their fair share in the fight. 

The laws do not, as many supporters claim, protect workers from being forced to become union members.

In fact, federal law already restricts this.

In union states, workers covered by union negotiated contracts can only be required to pay for the cost of bargaining and not for any other union activities.

However, over the last few years, there has been an alarming increase in anti-union sentiment.

Currently, half of our states have right to work laws with Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, recently passing their own versions.  

And in my own home state of Illinois, Governor Rauner has made passing right to work a top priority.

In fact, he is making this a cornerstone of his first term legislative agenda.

The idea behind his right to work law is that by increasing the number of free riding workers, unions will be forced to drastically reduce their budgets, weakening their ability to negotiate stronger contracts and defend the rights of American workers.

But the evidence clearly shows how misguided this stance and attacks on organized labor truly are.

For instance, research shows that seven of the ten states with the highest unemployment rates are right to work states. 

On top of that, we know that even if half of the counties in Illinois adopt right to work laws, we’d see the state’s annual economic output shrink by $1.5 billion, labor income fall by $1.3 billion, and an increase in both racial and gender income inequality.
So you might ask, if right to work laws are not actually good for the economy, what are they good for?

Right to work laws do a great job at harming hard-working middle class families, widening income inequality, and weakening unions.

Right to work states have seen an almost 10 percent decline in unionization, which has undermined growth in wages and led to the deterioration in workplace safety.

In right to work states, wages for all workers—not just unionized workers—are over 3 percent lower than wages in non-right to work states.

That’s about $1,500 less per year in the pockets of teachers, firefighters, nurses, and other hardworking Americans. 

Furthermore, injuries and deaths in right to work states are much higher than in non right to work states.

In the high risk environment of construction, where unions have played a fundamental role in demanding adequate safety standards, deaths are 34 percent higher in right to work states than in non right to work states.  

So as you can see, right to work is not right for our country, not right our states, and not right for our workers.

Using right to work laws as a strategy to lower wages and attract more businesses is not a suitable and sustainable strategy.

Instead of focusing on attacking unions and middle class workers, Governors should focus on fixing their broken budgets and investing in their schools, public safety programs, and transportation systems.

That’s the real recipe for economic success.

So let’s stand up against right-to-work laws and stand up for the right to organize, the right to a safe job, and the right to a fair wage.

Thank you and I yield back.