Opinion | Every worker has the right to organize

Ensure every worker has the right to organize by scrapping anti-labor union laws.

Evan Weidl, Opinions Columnist

The only thing standing between the dignity of workers and the greed of their employers and corporations is labor unions.

Last week, striking workers at Case New Holland, an agricultural machinery manufacturer in Iowa and Wisconsin, rejected a contract proposal that the company stated was its “last, best, and final offer.” The workers have been on strike since May, and the proposal they rejected was the first contract proposal they received.

Labor unions are the key to a more democratic workplace. That’s why Iowa needs to get rid of anti-labor unions or so-called “right-to-work” laws.

“Right-to-work” laws are presented as a way of helping people get jobs without being “forced” to join unions. But they just make it more difficult to form unions and collectively bargain.

As of 2019, 14.5 percent of jobs in states without anti-labor union laws were low-wage jobs, according to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. In states with anti-labor union laws, 24 percent are low wage. On average, worker pay drops 3 percent when anti-labor union laws are implemented.

Unionized workers see considerable benefits compared to workers who are not unionized. The U.S. Department of Labor unionized workers on average earn over 120 percent of what non-unionized workers earn. Unionized workers are more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and pensions and safe working conditions.

Many states that have passed anti-labor union laws argue that it is to protect workers from being forced to join a union, but it is already illegal at the federal level to force someone to join a union. Iowa recodified the “right-to-work” law in 1977.

The effect of these laws in Iowa is startling. The amount of workers that have union membership and representation has been slashed by over 50 percent since 1989, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Des Moines Register reports just 6.5 percent of Iowa workers are in a union, compared to the national average of 10.3 percent.

It is because of the struggles of organized workers in the past that workers today can enjoy so many benefits that are often taken for granted, like the 8-hour workday, weekends, safety standards, sick leave, and many more thanks to collective bargaining and unions.

What is happening with the Case New Holland strikes is a perfect example of why workers need unions. After eight long months on strike, the company finally presented a contract proposal. The members reportedly felt “disheartened” by the terms of the deal and felt they deserved a better deal.

Because of a union, the workers at Case New Holland were not only able to hold out for as long as they have, but they were able to reject terms they weren’t satisfied with. Their rights have been protected and they are not left at the mercy of their employer.

Opposition to unions is not a position that only one party or the other holds. President Joe Biden recently forced rail workers to accept a deal they did not want, leaving the workers with caps on their health care premiums and zero sick days.

On the other side of the aisle, 121 Republican House members and 21 Senators co-sponsored a bill that would weaken unions across the country.

Ultimately, unions are one of the most effective and available ways workers can secure themselves good conditions, benefits, and pay, and every worker in this country must have the option to unionize and collectively bargain without retaliation.

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