A conservative think tank is protesting the federal Labor Day holiday by staging a work-in on Monday in a gambit to celebrate “the freedom to keep your job when you choose not to join a union.”
“We’re calling it Right-to-Work Day,” Tom McCabe, CEO of Washington state’s Freedom Foundation, announced in a post on the organization’s website. The name refers to an effort by conservative lawmakers across the country to advance so-called “right-to-work” legislation that would allow union members to opt out of paying union dues while still benefiting from union contracts.
“At the Freedom Foundation, we celebrate freedom of choice and transparency – ideals the labor movement has vowed to oppose. Consequently, we’ve chosen to spend our holiday honoring the right-to-work movement instead,” the post says. McCabe goes on to argue that all problems in society can be “traced in some way back to the abuses of organized labor.”
But according to research from the Economic Policy Institute, right-to-work laws — which have the impact of weakening unions and lowering union membership — have almost no impact on job growth and actually reduce wages for union and non-union workers by up to $1,500 a year. Workers are also less likely to receive “healthcare or pensions through their jobs” and are hurt on the job with greater frequency. “For instance, the occupational-fatality rate in the construction industry—one of the most hazardous in terms of workplace deaths—is 34 percent higher in right-to-work states than in states without such laws,” David Madland, Director of the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, notes.
Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894, after U.S. marshals killed two men in the ill-fated Pullman Strike, a railroad workers’ boycott against high rent and low pay. Government violence against the labor movement became a major political issue and “in the immediate wake of the strike, legislation was rushed unanimously through both houses of Congress, and the bill arrived on President [Grover] Cleveland’s desk just six days after his troops had broken the Pullman strike.” In the succeeding years, labor unions built political momentum to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act, which helped create a federal framework for a shorter workweek, helped end child labor, and worked to negotiate for health coverage plans from employers.
Though unionization rates have been in decline for years, a recent analysis of Census data by the Center for American Progress, found that middle class Americans bring home a larger share of aggregate earnings in states that have high rates of union membership than in those where fewer workers are organized.