OP-ED | On Wall Street, ‘Right-to-Work’ Means a Wider Gap Between Rich & Poor
One doesn’t have to look any further than Fairfield County to understand why Connecticut has one of the greatest income disparities in the country. A few miles from the estates of Wall Street brokers and bankers, Bridgeport’s residents are struggling to get by in the new economy. Good manufacturing jobs have been replaced by minimum wage shifts at McDonalds. A third of children in Bridgeport live below the poverty line.”
Yet organizations funded by ultra-wealthy and corporate special interests are blatantly advocating for further widening the wage gap between rich and poor. As part of “Employee Freedom Week,” a nationally coordinated effort to convince workers to drop out of their unions, ads are running in Connecticut urging home healthcare workers to opt out.
This is a thinly veiled attempt to convince these workers to act against their own self-interest, and could have lethal repercussions in an industry where collective bargaining rights have not only alleviated home health aides’ difficult working conditions, but also have helped prolong their patients’ lives.
Home healthcare workers are everyday heroes who perform the backbreaking, draining work of caring for our sick, disabled, and elderly. From changing bedpans to administering medicine, dressing wounds and washing their patients, their work allows them to live their lives at home, with dignity and respect.
A stable, qualified home care workforce is at the heart of ensuring that working families have an opportunity to secure the American Dream, and seniors and people with disabilities can live with dignity in their homes. Pulling together means that care providers can negotiate for improvements in training, hours and policies, which keep seniors and people with disabilities safe. This is the only approach that has proven effective.
Everyone benefits from working together in the union, so everyone should contribute a fair amount to pay for the value they receive. Fair share fees are democratic — if a majority votes to form a union, all workers are represented. So it makes sense that all workers should contribute their fair share to that representation. Just as all Americans, regardless of whom they voted for, must pitch in to maintain their roads, operate their schools, and keep their libraries open, this is a basic premise of democracy.
Opting out will weaken these workers’ ability to negotiate for better pay and working conditions, and hurt them and their patients in the long run.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what the backers of this poll want. This attempt by Wall Street bankers and CEOs to strip working people of their rights would mean less freedom and fewer rights for both home care workers and clients. And it makes it easier for corporate CEOs to move people to part-time work, stamp out their opportunity to succeed, and eliminate the dignity and respect the elderly and disabled deserve.
The poll is far from a representative assessment of Connecticut residents’ feelings about workplace rights. The pollster, Jordan Bruneau, is a researcher for Berman and Company, an ultra-conservative PR firm that has launched attacks on healthcare reform. Bruneau also has worked for the Charles Koch Institute.
The Yankee Institute for Public Policy, which is among the supporters of the poll, is connected to a collection of groups that, while claiming to support “employee freedom,” have actually fought to take away workers’ rights. They are a part of the State Policy Network, an umbrella group of 59 right-wing “think tanks” across the country that are funded by national right-wing corporations and foundations including the Koch brothers — the same billionaires who bankrolled Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to stamp out employee rights in 2011.
These national rightwing groups may claim that Connecticut needs right-to-work. Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley may think that it’s time for our state to have its own “Wisconsin moment.” Yet those of us who live in Connecticut, who are faced every day with the reality of our rising poverty rates, know otherwise.
We know that in order to rebuild Connecticut’s middle class, we need to be creating opportunity for ordinary working people, not tearing down their chances for higher wages and safe working conditions. Leaders in our state and city governments have come together to fight our state’s growing income inequality, using strategies proven to work in Connecticut — increasing the tax rate for Connecticut’s top earners, opening up more slots in preschool for children from low-income households, and focusing on job growth. Instead of importing Wisconsin’s extreme agenda, let’s continue working together to find creative solution. That is the only real way to move our state forward.
Lori Pelletier is Secretary-Treasurer of the CT AFL-CIO.
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