Dr. Bob McClure’s opinion column extolling the benefits of Right-to-Work laws while proclaiming the death of the American labor movement was replete with the same anti-Labor talking points we have come to expect from the James Madison Institute, a part of a massive network of billionaire-funded think tanks and PR firms who count the elimination of all unions and most workers’ rights as one of their primary goals. The piece ran on April Fool’s Day and like most pranks on that day, there isn’t a lot of truth behind it.
Dr. McClure’s piece centers on two main lines of argument. First, unions are irrelevant in the current era. Second, Florida’s economy is booming, a situation created by the Right to Work provision in Florida’s Constitution and that, relatedly, this economy further supports the irrelevancy of unions.
First, on union irrelevancy. Just taking in the 30,000-foot view, if unions are irrelevant, why is there a vast, extremely well-funded network of think tanks, political super PACs and organizations like JMI, that show up in state legislatures across the country every year to eliminate them? Why spend hundreds of millions of dollars to eliminate that which is irrelevant?
The fact is that unions are relevant now more than ever. As income inequality continues to explode and wages have stagnated over the past three decades, unions and collective bargaining are being embraced in new professional sectors in the economy and disproportionally by workers in the millennial demographic. The Center for Economic Policy Research reports that there has been a surge in union membership with more than three-quarters of the 262,000 new union members last year being under age thirty-five.
Second, Florida’s “flourishing” economy. While the economy may look great from the ivory towers of JMI, that isn’t the case for most Floridians. The United Way’s most recent ALICE (Asset-Limited-Income-Constrained-Employed) report, which is a measure of the working poor, found that a whopping 44 percent of all households are struggling and can’t afford essentials such as food, housing and child care. Sixty-six percent of all Florida jobs pay less than $20 per hour. Poverty is on the rise. Thirty-six (of 67) Florida counties have lost jobs since 2007. Calling this a “flourishing” economy is a cruel April Fool’s day prank indeed.
The labor movement is changing to meet the new economy in America and is growing after years of decline. This is a good thing for all workers because it is clear that the billionaires, CEOs and conservative think tanks aren’t looking out for workers, they have to organize and fight for themselves. Unions are fighting for economic and social justice for all Americans and as the majority of our workforce continues to lose ground, unions will continue to grow and continue the fight to create a better nation. As workers find their own power through collective bargaining, the rich and powerful will continue to try and stop them.
Rich Templin is legislative and political director of the Florida AFL-CIO.