Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Tuesday Talk: How Can We Support Workers?

January 03, 2012 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

Conservatives want to make Minnesota a “Right to Work State,” which is a misleading title for policy that ultimately strips workers’ rights, lowers wages, and provides fewer jobsite safety standards. It undermines all workers by defunding organized labor. In a time when the income gap between the rich and middle-class is growing significantly, we should be working to strengthen workers’ rights.   

Instead of minimizing workers’ rights by bashing unions, how can we support all workers in a changing economy?  

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.


  • John Crampton says:

    January 3, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Right to work is one of those Orwellian terms.  What it means is “bust the unions and pay everybody minimum wage so we can pay our CEO a kazillion dollars.” 

    Right now, Germany has the most vibrant economy in the world, and unions are very strong there.  German employers are smart enough to realize that if they have a unionized workforce there will be more buying power in the country and they can rely on the unions to do most of their human resources functions. 

    Also, Germany has a multiparty democracy so that the big money people there have a much harder time buying the political leadership.  The parties in Germany are more accountable to the people.  Our country is not a democracy anymore.  It is a kleptocracy in which the richest people rule, backed by an extensive police state and a military that is about 4 times bigger and consumes about 70% more resources than it needs to defend our country….. Why, because it is defending Exxon Mobil’s interests not ours

    Kleptocracy is the proper term, because the richest people and biggest corporations receive the highest level of public subsidies.  GE pays no corporate taxes.  A Cargill family member and Glen Taylor are the biggest recipients of ag subsidies in Minnesota.  Their purchases of syncopatic politicians are well rewarded!

  • Rolfe says:

    January 3, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Minnesota should become a “Right to work for ourselves state”.  The State should take vigorous steps to encourage employee ownership of businesses—start-ups and grown-ups.  For example, guarantee credit at low rates to employees to purchase the company where they work.  Employee ownership can help to prevent off-shoring and corporate raiding like we’ve experienced the last decade or two. Wake up Minnesota!

  • Mike Downing says:

    January 3, 2012 at 9:49 am

    We can support future workers by setting high educational expectations for students so they can become independent & professional adults. 

    Independent & professional adults who are “life long learners” do not need a patriarchal union to take care of them as children.

  • Ruth Robelia says:

    January 3, 2012 at 9:54 am

    A right to work state demeans the very core of who we are.  We have watched ALEC quickly spread the cookie cutter bills that remove workers’ rights.  We are the HEARTLAND not the HATELAND.  It is sad to watch Wisconsin being destroyed along with Ohio, Michigan and Iowa.

  • Marlene Delott says:

    January 3, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Start educating the public about the history of the labor union movement—most people are not educated about unions and why they are so necessary.

  • Rick says:

    January 3, 2012 at 10:21 am

    Help everyone younger and older to get and stay educated. We should stay as independent as possible and continually strategize our futures. Everybody needs to try and keep some sort of leverage on our individual futures. Don’t depend on unions to save us.

  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    January 3, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Rolfe has it right, the future for workers is employee ownership. White collar public employee misuse of the term union to describe their proffesional organizations political move on power has all but undermined the union movement. Couple that with their absolute cowerdice during the PATCO disaster and you begin to see that as the union effort becomes more dominated by public servants, the less it serves the real blue collar workers. The only real power in the marketplace for workers is ownership. I have worked for years to bring on line a Mondragon style Worker Cooperative here in Minnesota. Just try to get funding or support from anyone for such an effort from the likes of the IRRRB.

  • KJC says:

    January 3, 2012 at 10:58 am

    We need to do a lot of things.  Education is good and necessary, to be sure.  Wish I could tell you that would be enough.  Current results would suggest that alone is insufficient.
    So?  We also need to change the macro-economic policies that have decimated the jobs of the Middle Class.
    There is a substantial White Paper by a certain Wall Street Bank, and it indicates what they see as “risks” to the documented trend towards Plutocracy here.  (I have a copy… you won’t find it on the internet, CitiGroup has prevailed upon web hosts to get it removed, again and again.) 
    I’m quoting their authors: “a change in the balance of power between capital and labor.”  I agree.  Which is why I recommend a new law that has an solid algorithm, with the principle of: If You Want to Sell Here, You will also Employ Here.”  If you want the fruits of this society, you will sustainably support this society.  Or pay a tax to cover the damage that insisting on having an exploitative view causes.  Our economic competitors go to great lengths to protect their jobs, we should too. 
    This is how we can support workers, make the rules about how we interact with the global economy work for everybody, not just the importing businesses.
    Then?  Things like this will change: that six members of the Walton (WalMart) family having more wealth than the bottom 40% of the citizens in our great country have all together.  This is shameful and risks our very democracy.

  • Paul says:

    January 3, 2012 at 11:14 am

    “For less” needs to be added after “right to work” to accurately characterize what this legislation is all about.  It is pure and simple union busting to lower middle class wages and further expand economic disparity - which is already worse than any post-depression time in America.  “Right to work for less” is what it should correctly be called.

  • Rob says:

    January 3, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Unionize as much as possible. Follow the incredibly successful German model.

  • Rick says:

    January 3, 2012 at 11:33 am

    I tend to agree here with Bill and John. Kleptocracy is not unique to this country. Example: I spent the holidays visiting my daughter who lives and works in Grenada. The Chinese built a state of the art Crickett Stadium to host world games. And, for that, they received exemption from taxes and got other public subsidy favors.  There was no local labor used at all even in that struggling economy and was built toally with Chinese Labor. Big money always talks and most often gets what it wants.

  • Rick Varco says:

    January 3, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Federal labor law pre-emption prevents most state activity that would give workers more power.  But states do have their own labor standards (wage-hour, safety, ect) and their own enforcement process.  Currently, union workers often incorporate these standards into their contracts and have a grievance/arbitration procedure to enforce them.  Non-union workers must rely on state regulators and courts to enforce their rights and results are far less effective.  What if the state said any worker who joined a union could have an individual contract with a grievance/arbitration procedure to enforce just state labor standards?  Thus, e.g., Wal-Mart workers could indiviudally join UFCW to prevent wage-hour theft by their employer.

  • Christeen Stone says:

    January 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    As I watched the present legislative majority waste last session arguing to add social issues on to our constitution, instead of presenting budget bills that were workable and could be passed:
    my thoughts were what are we paying them for this waste of the taxpayers money??How
    is their salary set and paid that they are willing to waste our tax dollars at their
    whim. Maybe we as citizens should take a good look at their salary and see if they are earning it. I come from a family of the teacher’s who earned their role in life by hard work and lots of loans, some are still paying years later for loans to get there. What education do you have to have to be a legislator??? I know we have a lot of good honest legislators who I highly respect and they earn their paycheck. But lets take a look at those who cost us so much and want to boast of this Years surplus which was by cutting the schools and health care. My suggestion for a solution.

  • owen says:

    January 3, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Totally agree Christeen. I am also completely fed up with the rhetoric in both St Paul and Washington.

  • Dave says:

    January 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    You all like to bash the rich because they made something of themselves. How rich do you suppose the National union bosses are. They are millionaires on workers hard earned pay. Union workers should quit the union dues and keep the money fore themselves. Thats how you help workers.

  • Rob says:

    January 3, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Dave, do you have any proof that union bosses are millionaires? Furthermore, can you document their union wages. If you can, please share that information. Also, as “CEOs” how does their pay stack up against the Wall Streeters. Specifically, how many are billionaires? Please gather this information so we all can be better informed. Thank

  • Nurse Anonymous says:

    January 3, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Unions need to provide a trustworthy union liaison to whom fearful individual workers can report workplace issues. Individual workers are paralyzed by fear of retaliation especially during a slow job market.  Unions need to encourage workers to come together to discuss issues and to provide a safe place to do so.  Unions need to reinforce “We support each other in the workplace.”  Unions need to support workers by following through with meaningful action when issues arise.

  • tony says:

    January 3, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Dave, in one sentence your support the wealthy & their high salaries by saying they made something of themselves & yet the president of the union is stealing the members money. You cant have it both ways. Union members pay dues to get the organized help to maintain & hopefully improve their lot in life. More education, unions encourage & help increase training of their members. Unions gave you the 40 hour week, overtime pay, child labor laws, paid vacations, pensions(how many non-union people have those?). I see union bashing as organized business(much is multi-national) propaganda & is decidedly un-American. Join a union & get the benefits your parents had. That’s the true American dream.

  • BonniefromMN says:

    January 3, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    “Right to Work” is one of those “gotcha” idioms like “Have you stopped beating your wife?”  Who isn’t for the right to work?  But if we don’t stand together to maintain decent wages and fair practices, we are dependent on the kindness of the administrator (who can’t be voted out as a union leader can). I wouldn’t have my job today were it not for someone in our union recognizing that I was working out of class and including me in a class action suit requiring my boss to follow standard practices. “We must all hang together or we all hang separately!”

  • rob says:

    January 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Dave, you out there? I hope you are ok. Where are you?
    Did you find hordes of billionare union bosses?

  • rob says:

    January 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Go Bonnie!

  • KJC says:

    January 4, 2012 at 8:40 am

    I admit my choice of a solution… to face our macro-economic structural issues… is a national one.  You have to start somewhere…
    Citibank did suggest, in print, that “a change in the balance of power between labor and capital” is what would change the course of the plutonomy (that they fully documented.)
    Mr. Palmisano, the head of I.B.M. openly admits that the idea that society is owed a say in why you’d be allowed in their marketplace (along with three other questions) are basic to business.  I’ve put his list below: 
    He says his guiding framework boils down to four questions:

    • “Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?”
    • “Why would somebody work for you?”
    • “Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?”
    • “And why would somebody invest their money with you?”

    This is way different than thinking there is some special “job creator” class that deserves special treatment.  As CEO I was interested in two things: selling more and cost control.  Cost control goes directly against job creation, let’s be clear.  The reason to take a bigger view?  Exactly what Mr. Palmisano suggests: “why would a society allow you to operate in their country?”  And that’s the question the public should be asking of executives… and not get diverted into some illusory “job creator” argument.
    As a CEO, I didn’t feel like I was in a special class.  I’m a citizen like everyone else… in fact I felt I had even more responsibilities, to a whole range of stakeholders, not less. 
    I’m with Mr. Palmisano, business owes the full range of stakeholders answers.. including a real justification for why it should be allowed to do business in any country. 
    Instead of the other way around…


  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    January 4, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    KJC:  I can only say “Amen.” 

    I also agree with Wolfe on worker-owned businesses. They would be managed in ways that never included allowing unsafe working conditions, for instance, or offshoring their own jobs.

    Re: education.  I wonder if middle and high school textbooks include the story of the labor movement. 

    Perhaps labor unions (and their supporters?) could arrange for movies (old and new, fictional or documentary) on the labor struggle to be shown on public access TV. And perhaps magazines could commission articles about it and community ed offer courses.

  • Dave says:

    January 4, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    I didn’t say billionaires, I said millionaires. There is quite a difference for those who don’t get it.

  • Dan Conner says:

    January 9, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    Billionaires, millionaires, who cares.  They achieved success?  Consider9ing that 70% of the wealth in our country is inherited, being rich and achieving it through hard work are not necessarily related.

    I mean look at the GOP idol, Mitt Romney.  He was a boy raised and pampered in a very rich family, who was given the right contact for jobs, after his father used money and influence to get Mitt into, and pay the tuition for,  great schools.  No, the person who made remarkable achievements is the person raised in a poor household, not having the advantage of contacts or money, who paid for their own school, persevered in a job search, worked hard, got promoted and achieved financial independence.  This even ignores the real patriot, who offered up themselves in the military to fight for our freedom.  Not someone who dodged the draft because they had better things to do.  The GOP has far too many chicken-hawks.

    I don’t choose to admire someone who, after being born on thrid base, brags about hitting a triple.  A true achiever is one who doesn’t have to brag to anyone.  I think people need to respect the right persons here.