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Premise and promise of America matters most

January 28, 2016

I never thought I would see the day when West Virginia would punch working people in the face by considering a so-called “right-to-work” law.

As a proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alumni and an even prouder representative of thousands of West Virginians who work hard every day for every dollar they earn, the push for so-called “right-to-work” is insulting.

The law has nothing to do with rights, and the arguments made by the out-of-state anti-union billionaires peddling it, such as the Koch Brothers, are outright false. It’s common-sense: Weakening the right of working people to join together for their own self-interest won’t raise their incomes, won’t create more good jobs for them and won’t give them more control or rights in their lives.

If common sense isn’t convincing, there are the facts. There is no pattern of economic growth among states with so-called “right-to-work” laws. Oklahoma, for example, passed such a law and has seen their manufacturing economic growth shrink, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. States such as Colorado, where such a misleading law was resoundingly rejected, have seen exponential economic growth and an increase in good, family-supporting jobs, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

Consider that seven of the 10 states with the highest unemployment have so-called “right-to-work” laws, BLS data shows. On average, working people who live in states with these laws make nearly $6,000 a year less. But it gets worse — politicians who swallow the bait and do the billionaires’ bidding have blood on their hands. Workers in these states face a 54 percent higher on-the-job death rate.

That should not be a surprise. If you weaken and undermine the power working people have when they form unions, you not only lessen the leverage they have to earn their fair share of the economic growth their productivity produces, you mute their ability to speak up about unsafe conditions.

So-called “right-to-work” is a dangerous power-grab, a class warfare waged on the middle and working class. Those pushing it are going in for the kill. They want to make permanent an economy in which the middle class is no longer the majority class and in which the number of poor people and the depth of their poverty has grown.

But the facts and statistics, as damning as they are, are not what actually matters the most in this debate. The most insidious part of this attack is that it destroys the premise and the promise of America. Our nation is not just about work. Men and women in Bangladesh or China or India have work — lots of it. America is about protecting the freedom and opportunity for every one of us to get ahead, so our families can prosper.

While so-called “right-to-work” has nothing to do with rights, it does have a lot to do with work — and if this becomes law West Virginians will be doing a lot more work to earn the same dollar so a small cadre of extremists can get even more. Every elected official who rejects this charade should be applauded — and every one who allows the state to be a pawn in the billionaires’ game should be placed at the back of what will unfortunately be an ever-growing unemployment line of those seeking ever-lower paying work.

Dennis Martire is vice president and mid-Atlantic regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, representing more than 5,000 workers in West Virginia, predominantly in the construction industry.

Read Charleston Gazette Mail article here.