In the hit series “The West Wing,” a character mistakenly refers to Kentucky as a right-to-work state. In defense of the show’s writers, you can understand their confusion. Kentucky remains the only state in the South not to pass one of these laws, which shows our political independence and common sense. But Republicans in Frankfort, Sen. Mitch McConnell, and a group of out-of-state, big-moneyed special interests are doing everything in their power to change that.
I strongly oppose right-to-work legislation because I love Kentucky and want a bright future for our children and grandchildren. Right to work is a sham. It is, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “a false slogan” which will “rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”
Slogans are catchy. They are designed to get a quick emotional reaction rather than a detailed understanding. That is why I believe some polls show support for these laws. No one opposes the right of Kentuckians to go to work and earn a living. But slogans are also misleading. They do not tell the full story. A majority of Kentuckians also support collective bargaining and higher wages, both of which are under attack as a result of right to work. As people learn more about who is behind right to work and the harm it causes working families, opposition is going to grow substantially.
So who is behind right to work?
Right to work is being pushed and bankrolled by an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, a former member of ALEC who has seen similar battles in his state, called it “nothing more than a corporate-funded and dominated group that operates much like a dating service, only between legislators and special interests.”
Here is how it works. Corporations pay ALEC to wine and dine legislators. In turn, the legislators agree to introduce bills written by ALEC. It’s nothing more than a form of legalized bribery. Who do you honestly think ALEC is looking out for — the people of Kentucky or their corporate contributors? Sen. Mitch McConnell, who has made a career carrying the water of special interests, is also behind right to work. He even went so far as to offer a national right-to-work amendment to civil rights legislation last year.
What does right to work mean for working families? To answer that, there is a brand new study from the University of Illinois and the numbers are disturbing. Right to work reduces wages and salaries by an average of 3.2 percent. It lowers both the share of workers who have health insurance and a pension. It reduces union membership by 9.6 percent. And workers are forced to rely 24 percent more on taxpayer-funded government assistance. In other words, right to work would make Kentucky poorer, sicker, less likely to have retirement security, and more reliant on Uncle Sam. We deserve better.
I am a proud member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 227. Every few years, my co-workers and I sit down with the company to negotiate the terms of our employment. There are disagreements, but we have always managed to work out a deal without any help from the government. All we want is a fair wage, decent benefits, and respect on the job. Our employer is making profits and I happen to think a happy, healthy, unionized workforce is a big reason why. Right to work assumes that business and labor are unable to bargain a fair contract without the assistance of a bureaucrat. I think in Kentucky, we do just fine on our own.
When it comes to right to work in Kentucky, “The West Wing” got it wrong. Let’s get it right by electing candidates who oppose this misguided legislation.
Shannon McMurray is a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 227.