by Félix Pérez
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ALEC and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who have well-earned reputations for their anti-public education and anti-worker policies and rhetoric, got a rude awakening last week, when a so-called right to work bill wasn’t able to garner a single vote in the state House of Representatives. The straight party line vote was 0-72, with 37 lawmakers voting present.
Worker advocates called the vote a stinging rebuke of Rauner’s agenda. The governor, a former venture capitalist who once proclaimed being among the top “0.01 percent” of wealthiest Americans, has traveled the width and breadth of the state selling his ALEC-derived right to work proposal. So far, his sales pitch hasn’t won over many converts.
High school teacher Cinda Klickna, president of the Illinois Education Association, said in a statement, ” ‘Right to work’ is intended to weaken unions, such as mine, . . . which represents teachers and support professionals who advocate for high quality teaching and learning conditions in their schools. At the local level, teachers who work through their union advocate for manageable class sizes and against high stakes testing. At the state level, through their union, our members advocate for adequate education funding for every student.”
It’s time for Gov. Rauner to drop the campaign against unions and concentrate on improving our schools and balancing our state’s budget.
According to a growing body of research, right to work does nothing to produce jobs. The Economic Policy Institute, for instance, wrote: “RTW laws have nothing to do with whether people can be forced to join a union or contribute to a political cause they do not support; that is already illegal. Nor do RTW laws have anything to do with the right to have a job or be provided employment. At their core, RTW laws seek to hamstring unions’ ability to help employees bargain with their employers for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.”
Along with his missionary zeal for right to work, Rauner has proposed eliminating the rights of teachers to bargain on such matters as classroom size, evaluation procedures and health insurance. Rauner is also an unapologetic advocate for a law that allows the state to walk away from its pension obligation to thousands of teachers, state workers and retirees. Recently, the governor was roundly criticized for calling the state Supreme Court “part of a corrupt system.” The court is weighing the constitutionality of a 2013 law that cuts retirement benefits for teachers and other active and retired public service workers.
Meanwhile, some 192 miles southwest of Springfield, the capital of Illinois, Republican lawmakers in Jefferson City, Missouri, drew the ire of workers, their families and the news media for the heavy-handed — and some say illegal — procedural tactics they used to pass right to work.
The House voted last week, 92-66, to pass a right to work bill. The day before, the Senate used a rare procedure to shut down debate, which was overwhelmingly in opposition to the bill. The Senate then voted 21-13 in favor of it.
In a statement after the vote, Gov. Jay Nixon, who has promised a veto, expressed his opposition to the “extreme” bill. “Attacking workers and weakening the middle class will not create jobs. In fact, rolling back the rights of working people would weaken our economy by lowering wages and making it harder for middle class families to move up the economic ladder. . . At a time when our economy is picking up steam and businesses are creating good jobs, this so-called Right-to-Work bill would take Missouri backwards.”
Also opposed to the bill is Missouri’s largest educators union, Missouri NEA. It urged its 35,000 members to contact their representatives to vote against the bill.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch was unsparing in its criticism of what it called a “charade.” In an editorial titled Legislature carves up the middle class, serves it on a platter to the rich, the newspaper made clear who is behind right to work and who benefits.
The recent rise in the passage of right-to-work laws is directly related to the increased ability of wealthy donors to control the U.S. political system. Millions are funneled through shell political committees to further enable a massive shift in wealth from the poor and middle classes to the top 1 percent. . . Missouri’s right-to-work bill was lifted almost word-for-word from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate-backed organization that pays for yearly junkets for lawmakers . . ., and then gives them canned bills to try to pass back home.
The Episcopal Diocese of Missouri likewise weighed in on the right to work bill in an editorial. The Rev. Teresa Mithen Danieley wrote, ” ‘Right to Work” legislation would undermine the dignity of working people and would make it even harder for Missouri families to make ends meet. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Average Annual Pay for 2013, people in states with “Right to Work” laws earn 12.2% less than people in other states ($43,028 compared with $48,998, on average) and families in states with these laws make 11.8% less than families in other states ($49,220 vs. $55,788, on average). If Missouri legislators really care about people and families in our state, they will refuse to concede to pressure from outside lobbyists.”