Thursday, March 1, 2012

Uh-oh, "the help" are gettin' ideas; time to crack down again

If there's one thing that frightens lawmakers and their corporate sponsors, it's the idea that hundreds of thousands -- even millions -- of low-paid workers might one day realize that millions of low-paid workers have greater electoral power than a few hundred corporate sugar daddies.

It's what led South Carolina's electeds in 1954 to make our state a "right-to-work-for-less" state, meaning that we all have the right to work for the lowest bidder and get fired for any ol' reason.

But every so often, when the social tide seems to move toward the empowerment of the proletariat, our lawmakers step up to the plate again and crack the legislative whip, just to remind us field hands of our place.

I reckon the recent attention paid to the Occupy Wall Street movement, and all the Oscar nominations for "The Help," has spooked some lawmakers, so now is another one of those times. Hence, the opinion-editorial in today's The State.

Every South Carolinian should have the right to make a living for his or her family without being forced to join a union or pay dues.

O, we have that right. What we don't have is any degree of influence or control over our wages, benefits or working conditions because South Carolina is a "right-to-work-for-less" state and prohibits workers from engaging in collective bargaining. That means either we accept what our corporate masters offer us, or we go hungry and homeless, because there's always someone hungry and homeless willing to accept what our corporate masters are offering.

Yay, South Carolina.

We must continue to safeguard this important individual freedom.

Well, how do you kill a mule that's been dead since 1954? Dig it up and shoot it again?

In the House, we recently passed the Right to Work Act of 2012 to strengthen our state’s right-to-work laws. This legislation, which I introduced earlier in the session, garnered bipartisan support and now has headed to the Senate.

Is that the legislation that simply repeats what's been on the books since 1954?

This bill is critical because it updates our laws to make South Carolina the strongest right-to-work state in the nation. While some might characterize it as anti-union, nothing could be further from the truth.

Wait a second: If a piece of legislation isn't anti-union, it's pro-union. Is this a pro-union bill we're talking about? Are we now overturning the old "right-to-work-for-less" statute?

No, that's not what this bill does. So it must be anti-union.

For a moment there, I felt lightheaded and dizzy. Now I realize that when a lawmaker says his bill isn't anti-union, a big load of bovine rhetoric is about to follow.

The purposes of the legislation are to ensure freedom of choice and to level the playing field so that all sides — employees, employers and unions — are protected and armed with knowledge about their rights.

This is very, very funny, because I suspect the folks who are most knowledgeable about their rights are union members. Which is precisely the problem for our lawmakers!

The bill has several important provisions that shore up our existing right-to-work laws.

First and foremost, it gives workers the right to protect their hard-earned paychecks. Under South Carolina’s current right-to-work law, if you join a union and sign up for a payroll deduction, the draft is often irrevocable for a year, even if you resign union membership. The bill lets workers stop payroll deductions any time.

If we applied this logic to cable television service and our utility companies, we could all recoup a nice chunk of change every time the power went out or the cable company took two days getting to our houses. So why not apply this principle to them?

Oh, that's right: Utility companies and the corporate cable giants contribute a lot of money to political campaigns. So they're safe, no matter how expensive it gets when everything in the freezer goes bad after a storm, or when we miss two days of cable service because our managers won't let us take a half-day to wait at home for the cable guy. Boy, it pays to be a powerful corporate entity; you can buy the laws you want.

Workers in a "right-to-work-for-less" state, not so much.

Second, it lets employees hang a poster in their workplaces outlining the fundamental principles of South Carolina’s right-to-work laws.

Hey, can employees hang their own posters outlining the benefits of collective bargaining, or union membership, or just basic run-of-the-mill (pardon the pun) organizing? Mm, I don't see that spelled out here in the op-ed.

And here's another question: Does this mean workers can bring their own handmade, hand-lettered posters to work for this purpose -- you know, to express their creativity? Or must they use a poster produced by their corporate masters for this purpose?

The posters would be available electronically or in hard-copy from the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Oh, so no creativity. Must use corporate master's poster or none at all. Aren't these already posted prominently right beside the signs saying, "Don't like minimum wage? Quit!" and "There's a sucker born every day. If you don't know anyone else born on your birthday, it might be you! Now get back to work." And my personal favorite: "Big Brother is watching."

So I thought employers already hung "right-to-work-for-less" posters in their workplaces.

Employers already can hang right-to-work posters, but employees do not have the statutory right to do so. This would give employees and employers equal rights to display a poster if they choose.

Oh, I get it. So if Bertram Wormley, the guy who details all the managers' cars as a side job, wants to post one of these "I love to work for low wages and no benefits" posters, he can do it now, without the boss's approval. Man, that's power.

The bill also seeks to level the playing field for all S.C. businesses that compete for government contracts. Recently, there has been a push at the federal level and in neighboring states to require project-labor agreements, meaning that union-worker quotas are involved when awarding public contracts. Under the new legislation, state and local governments would not be able to require or prohibit project-labor agreements as part of awarding a contract, incentive or tax credit.

So a project-labor agreement is one that requires employers to abide by federal labor laws, and we don't like them, because federal labor laws grant workers more rights than we want workers to have. It's that doggone federal government, intruding again in our mistreatment of poor people. When will it learn to let us run our slave-labor system as we want?

The bill further protects South Carolinians by increasing fines for right-to-work violations, which have not been indexed to inflation, bringing them up to a level that is punitive.

I have to say, I am so glad that we're now getting around to indexing things to inflation, because public employee wages have lagged way behind inflation for generations.

Could we amend that section of the bill to index public employee wages to inflation then, so that every time inflation creeps up, public employees get an automatic bump to keep pace?

Passing the Right to Work Act this year is a critical next step in protecting freedom of association in South Carolina, one of our basic constitutional rights.

Another critical step in protecting freedom of association might be to set aside time every week for workers to receive information about the wages, benefits and working conditions enjoyed by their counterparts in other states. Hey, networking South Carolina's workers with other states' workers is the epitome of freedom of association, isn't it?

Forcing workers to pay union dues to get or keep a job is simply wrong,

and it hasn't been done since 1954, right?

and we must make it a priority as a state to have the strongest right-to-work laws in the country.

Don't we already? I mean, we prohibit collective bargaining so the proles can't negotiate for their own wages, benefits and working condition. We prohibit payroll deduction of dues so the proles have to write their own checks each month. We shoot and kill people who want workers to have the ability to organize themselves -- that was the Honea Path Massacre at Chiquola Mill on September 7, 1934. And we close down plants where workers dare to vote to organize themselves -- that was the Darlington Manufacturing Company, owned by Roger Milliken, in October 1956.

If that doesn't make us the most anti-union, strongest "right-to-work-for-less" state in the union -- oops, the Union -- then I don't know what will.

As the Obama administration is promoting union activity, now is the time for us to send a strong message that South Carolina is a right-to-work state.

I can't think of a single thing the Obama administration has done to promote union activity... and I think everyone, I mean everyone, from Key West to Puget Sound, knows all about what sort of state we have here in South Carolina.

The Senate will be taking up the bill in the coming days and weeks, and I am encouraged that many senators were involved in developing it or have expressed support. Gov. Nikki Haley also has been a vocal advocate.

It gladdens my soul that Haley was able to tear herself away from her service to Mitt Romney's campaign, and from her busy schedule of snubbing the President and First Lady of the United States and attending out-of-state fundraisers at the public expense, to lend her voice to this important issue.

As it moves through the General Assembly, I ask my fellow legislators to make strengthening right to work a top priority this session. In addition, I ask employees and employers to contact your senators to express support for this important bill, which protects freedom of choice in South Carolina.

So it's a pro-choice bill?

Now that's utterly reprehensible.

1 comment:

  1. The truth is that this law takes rights away from South Carolinians. The part about banning municipalities from entering into project-labor agreements is especially egregious. In many trades, union labor is simply the best quality labor available, so when a community decides it wants to build a high quality project, such an agreement ensures excellent quality work. Why should the state prevent the people paying for projects from deciding who works on those projects and how they are paid for? Some of us believe that it is in the best interest of our communities to pay workers a fair wage in exchange for their high-quality work. When everyone makes a fair, living wage, we are all helped. This law is a short-sighted attack on all workers in South Carolina.