Right-to-work for Christmas: The Labor Scrooge lives in Michigan and maybe in our communities


This week, President Obama said right-to-work laws were actually “the right to work for less money.”

I can relate.

Emil For Real knows the power of right-to-work laws.

That was my DJ name circa 1974 in Texas, a classic right-to-work state.

But I wasn’t in some burg outside of George Bush’s ranch. I was in the big town, Houston, already the tenth largest city in the nation, and working in media, on-the-air for the biggest FM rocker with a 50,000 watt signal.

And I made a glorious $3 an hour.

Good thing I was an inexperienced 19-year-old with no family.

But no union?

The same on-air broadcast job in a union town, say Detroit, would have paid me at least $20 or $30 hourly at the time, maybe more. In fact, I couldn’t get a professional radio job in a union town like Boston, where I was back then. So right-to-work was my “deal with the devil.” I drove 2,000 miles to my crossroads to get on the air for $3 an hour.

It worked for me at 19. But now as an older adult, I realize how I got screwed royally, and how right-to-work set the salary floor much lower than it should have been, not just for me, but for all my older co-workers.

My Emil For Real days came roaring back to mind like I was playing Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them” for the very first time.

It was prompted by Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder playing the role of labor Scrooge.

On the eve of 12-12-12, Snyder with the stroke of a pen put into effect a brand new right-to-work law that is as ominous a sign for the American middle class worker as any number of fiscal cliff negotiations these days.

If you think the fiscal cliff will sock it to you, a right-to-work philosophy does more to depress overall wages than you know.

Right-to-work is one of those dishonestly crafted phrases that self-deodorizes its true intentions. It’s enough so that the somnambulant might say, “Sounds good, this right-to-work idea,” as if maybe there will be jobs at the end of all the ruckus.

In fact, what the law really does is strip any potential power of workers to get a little respect from their bosses.

Little wonder that the right-to-work movement is being pushed hard nationwide by the billionaire Kochs, who have a real interest to pay out as little as possible to workers.

Indeed, “RTW” gives all the power to the corporate bosses and frees them from having to deal with empowered workers. It’s all about a corporation’s right to employ workers who have no unions, no power, no leverage.

A right-to-work law codifies the notion of “wage slave.”

Reports have shown wages are generally lower in the 23 right-to-work states (mostly in the South). No doubt wages will begin to fall in the 24th, Michigan, as unions weaken even faster than they have been.

From my Emil For Real experience, lower wages didn’t mean more jobs for others. It just meant more profits for the corporations.

In fact, I worked for a family-owned operation in Texas that was pretty nice at the time. Imagine a full month’s pay as a Christmas bonus. But when profits take precedence over people, I knew that wouldn’t last.

It didn’t.

Currently, we have reminders in our own community of what happens when the balance of labor is out of tilt, and not just with corporate employers.

This week, AALDEF won a settlement against a Long Island couple who paid “Sarah,” a Caribbean immigrant of South Asian descent, $2 an hour to work as a live-in nanny and housekeeper for a minimum 16 hours a day, six days a week. And that’s the positive spin. It gets worse.

What’s all that have to do with Michigan? Apples and oranges, you say?

It’s all about how we view workers, work, and the middle class.

Without tough pro-worker laws, we’ll have more Emil For Reals, and definitely more Sarahs.

Right-to-work laws are intended to devalue the worker and, in turn, shrink the middle class.

Right-to-work? Think of “Sarah.”

It’s the Right-to-Exploit.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
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