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You Already Have The “Right-To-Work"

Union in West Virginia's "frank" talk explains that RTW will not make you qualified for a job that doesn't exist or grow the economy

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jan 27, 2016

The Utility Workers Union of America sends out a communication called UWUA E-News, it goes out to their members from coast to coast with news from UWUA unions from across the country. UWUA Local 304 is based in Haywood, West Virginia. They are a tiny little local, recently organized in late September 2010. As many of you may know, West Virginia is in a battle over Right to Work (for less). Below is what the leadership of Local 304 put out to its members and is worth the read. It is important for all of us who live in free bargaining states to realize what our union allies are going through in state with little union density and Right to Work (for less) laws. We here at UCOMM based in Neuva York got it made but we must offer and lend support when and where it is needed.

UWUA Local 304: There has been lot of talk and ink spilled trying to get average working people, even those who aren’t union, to understand the threat that “Right to Work” legislation represents to every working person in this country, as well as West Virginia.

In explaining how it’s union labor that sets the bar for wages, benefits, and also how unions have fought to develop safety rules and regulations  that make all workplaces safer may not be a message that resonates for the average working person who is struggling, and may even resent unionized workers, who in their eyes, “got it made.”

This rhetoric is used as a tool for those pushing anti-worker legislation to keep a division among people who work for a living, and up the ante even more by blaming the poor, who also seem to “have it made” because they don’t punch a time clock.

Unions also set the bar in the quality of work they do. This protects investments, both public and private, by making sure the work done is what they are supposed to deliver and on time. This is not to denigrate anybody who works who isn’t union, but the apprenticeship training and qualifications required by most unions are the standard to which all workers are held.

Politicians deliver well-rehearsed sales pitches of the promise of economic growth and prosperity that they claim “Right To Work” will bring, when in reality some of the worst performing states are “Right to Work” states.

You presently have a right to work, anywhere you choose. However, if you get hired in a job that doesn’t have a union, you are classified as an “at will” employee. This means you work at the will and pleasure of the employer, and the employer retains the right to fire you at any time for any reason. Of course the trade off is that they say, as an “at will” employee, you also have the right to quit whenever you like.

You also have the right, under the National Labor Relations Act to form a union where you work.

“Right To Work” will not magically make you qualified for a job in which you have no training or experience, it will not open up job opportunities in companies that currently don’t exist, and it won’t grow the economy of the state. Actually, as wages fall, economies have been proven to shrink from the effects of such legislation.

In the movie Matewan, actor Chris Cooper has a message for those coal miners who are trying to establish the United Mine Workers in the southern West Virginia coalfields at the turn of the century. These workers are caught up in the battle among each other that the coal barons fueled by bringing in southern blacks and immigrant Italians to work in their place in the mines. Cooper’s character is a union organizer, and he patiently listens to the gripes. Things get tense when the organizing committee is sought out by a black miner called ‘Fewclothes” (played by James Earl Jones) who searches out the union because he wants a say and a better stake in life from his labor. The organizing committee, who just got through long winded speeches about how wrong it is for these workers to come in and take their jobs, grow tense at the presence of the outsider.

03Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper): “You think this man is the enemy? Huh? This is a worker! Any union keeps this man out ain’t a union, it’s a goddam club! They got you fightin’ white against colored, native against foreign, hollow against hollow, when you know there ain’t but two sides in this world – them that work and them that don’t. You work, they don’t. That’s all you get to know about the enemy.”

Spoiler Alert: the character of C.E. Lively (Bob Gunton) was later proved in the movie to be an informer against the union. He gave the organizing committee a place to meet so that he could report back to the company on the organizers. The character was based on an actual person.

The message is clear and still true today. The only question is what side are you on?

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