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Essay: Martin Luther King Jr. Fights for Freedom in Labor Unions: Stopping The Right-To-Work Fraud

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“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right-to-work.’ It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works.’ Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining… we demand this fraud be stopped”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fighting for equal rights and freedoms, he also fought for equality in the work environment. He stated that the right-to-work had no meaning and wanted the people to have the freedom of collective bargaining. The definition of right-to-work is relating to or promoting a worker’s right not to be required to join a labor union. A labor union is an organization of workers formed to protect the rights and interests of its members. Workers in airline and railway industries are excluded by the law and are not protected by the right-to-work act. Some workers in the federal enclave are also not protected by the law.

Under the state right-to-work laws and federal labor law, which currently exist in 25 states in the US and Guam, workers have the right decide for themselves whether to join or financially support a union. The labor union have helped workers in the past with increased wages roughly by 20% and raised compensation. The right-to-work offers more jobs for the people but lacks the benefits of the labor union. The right-to-work laws affirm that the right of all workers in the US to work at their place or organization of their choice will be without the pressure of joining a labor union. If the law was passed, it is going to create more problems than solving them. The right to work should not be allowed in the United States because it does not help the average American worker, does not guarantee a job, and it will lower the quality of life for the American people.

Unions have a huge impact on work lives and the compensation of union and non-unionized workers. Unionized workers have received 26% more vacation time and 14% more total pay leave on vacations and holidays. A paid vacation benefits the workers that have worked with the union over many years. The worker can enjoy their time off and doesn’t have to worry about money since it is a paid vacation. Unions also reduce wage inequality because they raise wages for low- to middle-wage workers than high-wage workers. Right-to-work laws impact on the wage level remains ambiguous from an economic perspective. It is ambiguous since the law affects the wage and unions. A worker’s pay should be justified and be able to provide for themselves and their family. It should benefit the workers who cannot support themselves and their family instead of depending on welfare. Unions have the responsibility to fulfill a worker’s labor protections and rights such as safety and health, overtime, family/medical leave, and enforcing those rights on the job. On December 29, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into the law of the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act. The act gave the Federal Government authority to set and enforce safety/health standards for the majority of the country’s workers. This was enforced by the union because of the poor working conditions that had endangered the workers well-being. Safety/health rights greatly improved the work environment for their workers.

The right-to-work law has more negative sides than its positive sides. Having the right to work includes lower wages and income. The average worker in a right-to-work state makes $5,971 or 12.2% less annually than workers without right-to-work laws. Lower wages increases more low-wage jobs. Low-wage jobs do not benefit workers. This would push workers away in the area because the majority of workers have a family that require financial support and cannot live on low-wages or depend on welfare. Workers are not always guaranteed a job and the right-to-work law does not protect against unfair firing which leads to unhappy workers which they will present the negatives of working that specific job. Not having a stable job does not benefit any worker. This will also push many working- to middle-class people to find more stable job opportunities outside the area or state if the right to work law passes.

The right-to-work law will lower the quality of life for the American people in the United States. The right-to-work law will lower investments in education, lower rates of health insurance coverage, and higher poverty rates. Lower investments in education is an outcome if the right-to-work law is passed. Education is highly valuable in the United States. The quality of education now is declining then it was in the past, according to the White House Higher Education Administration. In 1990, the U.S ranked first in the world in a four-year degree attainment among 25-34 year-olds. Today the U.S ranks 12th. This fact supports the lowering investment in education which can greatly affect the future of the country. After the year 1990, schools in the U.S. have been forced to cut back due to the funding of school education. President Obama has a goal for the country: that by 2020, America would once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. This cannot happen if the investment for education is lowered.

In addition to lower investment towards education, the right-to-work law will lower the rates of health insurance coverage. Health insurance covers essential health benefits, protects the American people from unexpected high medical costs, and gives users free preventive care. The majority of Americans need health insurance at some point in their life. The estimated population in 2014 from the United States Census Bureau was 318,857,056. Connecting this fact to America’s Unions states, people under the age of 65 in states with right to work laws are more likely to be uninsured by 16.3% compared to 12.4% in a free bargaining state. The difference between these rates is 4%. The 4% is significant because thousands of people will be living without health insurance compared to free-bargaining states. Health insurance is essential to living to the fullest without worrying about our health.

No health care will lead to increased poverty rates in the United States. America’s Unions states that the poverty rates increase while wages and health insurance decrease. Poverty, or the state of being poor, should not increase because it is a problem in our modern society.  Even though the rate difference is only 1.7% increase in poverty, the change is significant because that 1.7% of the population is thousands of American people in poverty not living to the fullest. Peter Edelman from The New York Times wrote an article about how poverty in America cannot end. They stated: “The lowest percentage in poverty since we started counting was 11.1% in 1973… and yet 15 million more people are poor today.” The poverty rates fluctuate depending on what is happening to the people’s environment or job. Poverty cannot be stopped, it can be reduced significantly, but, there will always be some form of poverty.

The right-to-work law does not only lower many necessities, it will also indirectly hurt the peoples’ voices. The union is a way to hear what the workers want in their work environment. Unions in states with right-to-work laws put less effort to organize in workplaces because they have the support from members compared to non-right-to-work states.  As a result, the reticence attracts investment, creating employment opportunities for average American workers. People work to have a fair and justified income to support themselves and their family. Right-to-work will turn each worker against each other and destroy unions. People fighting each other create a negative and hostile work environment. The right-to-work in a union state will upset workers. The latest state to right-to-work is Michigan. Michigan was a union state that supported the workers. In 2012, when the right-to-work law was passed, protestors fought to not have right-to-work in the state because it provides no rights and no work, as stated from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The purpose of right-to-work only destroys labor unions and collective bargaining. Unions in short, benefits workers and members only have to pay union dues. Right-to-work on the other hand will make our country fall due to its poor conditions and work quality.

The possibility of a union forming in a right-to-work state will be difficult due to the laws of the right-to-work. Right-to-work laws are not against or for unions, because it affirms the right of Americans to be free of compulsory unionism abuses. The individuals that have the power within the right-to-work state are those who are in charge of corporations, businesses and organizations. If the American workers don’t like their work environment and pay, they will protest on improving qualities of work. Corporations, businesses, and organizations have the power to not change the work environment if they choose to do so. There are many ways the American workers can get what they want in order to change the laws of right-to-work. The majority of American workers can sign a petition of what they can remove and benefit from work in order to continue working, another suggestion would be similar to the nonviolent movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1960, the sit-in. Instead of working to benefit the unfair corporation, business or organization, workers that want change will stop what they’re doing until a change has happened this will lower the production of goods for a short while in order to get the attention of their supervisors, or have the majority of workers protest in front of the main organization building for hours or days until the organization decides to hear the voices of the American workers.  There is an increasing number of workers willing to join labor unions in right-to-work states compared to non-right-to-work states which help unions thrive.  There is a collective belief that right-to-work laws make unions pay more attention to its members compared to non-right-to-work. In the long run, union organizers will regain their grounds in the right-to-work states through a commitment to gain the support from its members.

The right-to-work will create issues if it is pass. The primary reasons why people should not pass the right-to-work law are that it leads to lower wages and does not benefit the working class, which is wrong. The right-to-work law only creates an unfair working environment for the people. It also makes other factors like health insurance, education investments, and poverty more of an issue than it already is. Unions and employee rights advocates will fight the right-to-work laws, just as they have fought for many years to preserve the American dream.


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