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Kentucky Right-to-Work-for-Less Proponents: Inaccurate, Misleading and Ignorant of the Facts

Source: Kentucky AFL-CIO


In his latest attempt to stir up interest for right-to-work-for-less in Kentucky, Doug Alexander, former press secretary for Wallace Wilkinson and current director of the Commonwealth Progress Council, submitted a convoluted editorial to the Lexington Business Journal in which he tried to tie the fortunes of ailing Ford and G.M. to the right-to-work-for-less issue. The editor of the Journal requested that I respond to Mr. Alexander’s submission. My response follows:

Mr. Alexander’s perspective on union dues is both inaccurate and purposefully misleading and displays lack of knowledge about the relationship enjoyed by management and labor at Ford and G.M. He calls the relationship between these firms and its workers and their union “adversarial” while failing to mention the fact that the United Auto Workers (UAW) and Ford and G.M. have one of the most cooperative relationships of any union in any industry. In making a convoluted case for right-to-work-for-less, he betrays his ignorance of the extremely positive relationship enjoyed by these entities, which includes joint programs in health care, retirement plans, safety programs, productivity enhancement programs, the establishment of Family Life Centers and so on.

The relationship between the UAW, Ford and G.M. is considered a mature relationship in the parlance of labor management relations where each respects the other’s positions and goals and recognizes the importance of working cooperatively in a competitive marketplace. Mr. Alexander fails to mention the cooperative effort put forth by the UAW and the management at Ford’s Louisville Assembly Plant (LAP) that pulled together and saved LAP from being closed by Ford during the 1980s. He is also more than likely unaware that the Ford/UAW team at LAP was awarded the prestigious Labor/Management Award presented by the University of Louisville’s Labor/Management Center in recognition of their progressive and positive relationship.

Mr. Alexander’s claim that right-to-work-for-less is “one way to make sure that the Kentucky of the future doesn’t become the Michigan of today” ignores the fact that federal law requires that workers employed by firms with collective bargaining agreements receive the same wages and benefits whether they pay union dues or not. In other words, if a company operates in a right-to-work-for-less state and the union negotiates a certain wage rate, all workers in the bargaining unit, whether they pay unions dues or not, receive the same wages and benefits. A company derives no direct benefit if they operate in a right-to-work-for-less state.

Forcing unions to represent workers that refuse to pay dues is like asking any other service provider such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc. to provide services for customers that simply don’t have to pay a fee if they don’t want to. How long would these service providers remain in business?

How passing a right-to-work-for-less law would benefit automakers like Toyota is beyond me.

Toyota, G.M. and Ford are all global corporations with hundreds of facilities around the world, some of which are in countries with strict prohibitions on forming unions and others, like Canada, that have more liberal labor laws and much higher levels of unionization and, where Toyota has recently announced it will build a new production facility. Those who do not have an anti-union agenda recognize that whether a state has right-to-work-for-less or not is of little real consequence in site location decisions of large global corporations. Kentucky’s Economic Development Secretary, Gene Strong, has called the impact of right-to-work-for-less on economic development “more perception than reality.” (The Kentucky Gazette, 01/21/04)

If right-to-work-for-less is such a paramount issue in these types of investment decisions, then why did Toyota locate in Kentucky to begin with and continue to make several major expansions of the plant? Why did Ford Motor Company pump several billion dollars in expanding and improving the Louisville Assembly Plant and the Kentucky Truck Plant and why is G.M. also continually investing in its renowned Corvette plant in Bowling Green?

The argument about right-to-work-for-less has more to do with an anti-union agenda then it does about economic development. It all sounds so logical until you look at the facts. Whether workers in unionized workplaces can opt out of paying union dues and still receive the benefits and protections of unionization has nothing to do with economic development. By the way, the reason why I have referred to this policy as right-to-work-for-less is because, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in right-to-work-for-less states earn on average $5,333 LESS per year than workers in non-right-to-work-for-less states. That’s right, thousands less in wages and even greater differences in health care benefits.

Policies like right-to-work-for-less that result in lower wages for Kentucky’s workers are not good for Kentucky and its hard working citizens, many of whom are already struggling to get by or are worried about losing their job in the global economy.

When legislators, candidates and the general public find out that right-to-work-for-less simply means weaker unions, lower wages, less benefits for Kentuckians they will reject Mr. Alexander’s disingenuous efforts.


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