Concerned that the Trump administration and Republican majorities in the Minnesota Legislature intend to pass Right to Work laws, members of the People of Color Union Members caucus are speaking out.
POCUM, based in Minneapolis, includes members of public and private sector unions, ranging from construction and manufacturing to education and government. The group held an action Feb. 17 outside the Minnesota Republican Party’s office in Minneapolis.
“We want them to know we say no to Right to Work,” said Kerry Jo Felder, a leader of the group. “If they try to bring that here, we’re going to fight back.”
So-called “Right to Work” laws don’t guarantee a job. Rather they bar workers from having labor contracts that require everyone to pay their fair share of union representation – whether they are members or not. Unions and other critics say these laws allow people to enjoy the higher wages and other benefits of a union contract without bearing any of the cost – and they starve unions of resources needed to adequately represent workers’ interests.
Twenty-eight states currently have some form of a right to work law covering private sector workers and two Republican members of Congress, Joe Wilson of South Carolina and Steve King of Iowa, introduced national legislation earlier this month.
President Trump has said he supports Right to Work laws, causing concern among POCUM members.
“We know the Trump administration has a huge Right to Work agenda,” Felder said. “We know this highly affects workers of color.”
Right to Work “will make it harder for our families, friends and communities to get and maintain jobs,” she said.
The effect goes beyond members of unions, experts say. Workers in right-to-work states earn 3.1 percent less than those in other states, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
“Where unions are strong, compensation increases even for workers not covered by any union contract, as nonunion employers face competitive pressure to match union standards,” EPI researchers said. “Likewise, when unions are weakened by Right to Work laws, all of a state’s workers feel the impact.
Economists such as former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich say Right to Work would reduce the bargaining power of average people.
Speaking at the POCUM event, AFSCME Local 2822 Chief Steward Sam Gutierrez said, “Unions set the bar for all workers’ rights, whether you are in a union or not.”
Teferi Fufa, a retired member of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, read a list of benefits unions have brought to society, from higher wages, pensions and vacations to services for veterans, support for civil rights, laws against sexual harassment, access to jobs for people with disabilities and parental leave.