MESSAGE FROM SECRETARY-TREASURER
Steven P. Vairma
Steve Vairma's Column:
Union win over RTW in Montana provides lesson
We should praise all 33 Democratic members of the Montana House of Representatives who recently voted against so-called "right-to-work" legislation at the State Capitol, killing the bill for 2021. Their votes were vital.
Also, we ought to applaud the 1,000 or so union members and supporters who cheered from the gallery when the vote was counted. They were extraordinary.
The plaudits are well-deserved, but we would be amiss by omitting the 29 Republicans who voted with the 33 Democrats to defeat right-to-work (RTW). They were, no doubt, the key players in the trifecta.
There are Republican union members who are state representatives and others probably had relatives who were union members. Some could have been influenced by union workers residing in their districts. Regardless, the Republicans were invaluable.
Trade unionists in Montana had something to prove, and they did it in an unexpected display of bipartisan strength, shocking both right-to-work advocates and union opponents.
It wasn't even close. They killed the bill by a vote of 62 to 38 in the House, an almost unbelievable accomplishment given the polarization that challenges the nation.
Fifty years ago, nearly a third of U.S. workers belonged to a union. Today, it's less than one in 10.
There's no doubt that right-to-work bears much responsibility for the decline of union strength in the workplace since the Taft-Hartley law, which allowed states to enact right-to-work laws, was passed over President Truman's veto in 1947. Twenty-six states have passed RTW, five since 2012.
Research shows that right-to-work has lost all three times it was on a statewide ballot in a general election. It lost twice convincingly in Colorado in 1957 and 2008, and was overwhelmingly defeated in Missouri in the 2018 general election. A year earlier it had passed Missouri's Republican Legislature and was signed by the governor. However, union organizers gathered enough signatures to keep it from going into effect pending the results of a statewide referendum.
The election day victories show that while unions might have a better chance with voters than they do with legislators, it is far more expensive. The successful victory in Missouri cost the unions more than $15 million. In 2008, Colorado Teamsters alone spent $1 million to help defeat right-to-work.
Right-to-work laws depress wages, working conditions and safety on the job. Studies show that right-to-work laws do not create jobs and it is not a priority when employers consider relocating.
A victory over right-to-work is a conquest that all of labor cherishes. Right-to-work is a fraud. It gives nobody any right to work, but instead it steals those rights - a worker's nightmare.
Unions throughout the country should commend their counterparts in Montana who won an epic battle with the unwelcome out-of-state interest groups, such as the National Right-to-Work Committee and Americans for Prosperity that invade states seeking to destroy unions.
The union triumph in Montana should provide a lesson to those who will fight the right-to-work battle in the future: You can't do it alone. You must have allies. Find them, whether they be Democrats, Republicans, Independents. You'll need them all.
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