“So-called right-to-work initiatives are really about the right to work for less. If Michigan politicians succeed in rolling back workers’ rights, union and non-union workers will likely see lower wages, poorer health and pension benefits, and a greater likelihood of needing government assistance. Governor Snyder seems to forget that you strengthen the economy by investing in the middle class, not attacking it.
“Out-of-touch elected officials tried to strip away workers’ rights in Ohio and failed. Workers fought back, and an overwhelming number of voters registered their disapproval for stealth attacks on the middle class. At a time when the auto industry and supply chain is on the rebound, and workers are beginning to earn decent wages and benefits so that they can provide for their families, the Michigan legislature is taking a step back instead of a step forward. This fight is far from over.”
Brown is a staunch advocate for workers’ rights and workplace safety. In February 2011, Brown met with working Ohioans to hear their thoughts about efforts that would repeal their collective bargaining rights. He also released a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter sent to his fellow U.S. Senators urging them to join him in visiting with public employees in their states and listening to their thoughts and concerns about efforts aimed at abolishing collective bargaining.
The full text of the letter is below.
February 24, 2011
As you are aware, pending legislation in several states would abolish collective bargaining rights for public sector employees. While we insist on shared sacrifice and all agree that states must take steps to balance budgets, it is important to remember that the efforts to repeal collective bargaining rights for fire fighters, police officers, teachers, nurses, and other dedicated public workers have little to do with the budget.
Today in Columbus, I sat down with teachers, firefighters, and university workers to hear their thoughts about legislation to repeal their collective bargaining rights. I learned that these workers understand the budget crunch states face, and have been willing to sacrifice to address this fiscal crisis. However, they are not willing to cede their collective bargaining rights, which ensure a fair process to negotiate workplace issues. Recent polling shows that a majority of Americans agree, with 61 percent of Americans opposing the repeal of collective bargaining laws.
For the middle class, stagnant wages have become the unfortunate norm for the past decade. Even before this recession, wages actually fell during the 2002-2007 economic expansion. Foreign competition and new technology are no doubt factors in this stagnation, but the decline in union membership – and absence of collective bargaining - among private sector workers has contributed to income inequality. In 2010, the union membership rate for public sector workers was 36.2 percent, substantially higher than the 6.9 percent of private workers. I fear that eliminating collective bargaining for these public workers will harm the entire middle class.
At least 45 states and the District of Columbia are projecting budget shortfalls for fiscal year 2012. But collective bargaining is not the problem. In fact, in Ohio, balanced budgets and collective bargaining have coexisted for nearly three decades. The recent footage from Madison, Columbus, and other state capitals should remind us that ending collective bargaining is not a minor adjustment in the relationship between employers and employees, but an assault on rights that are critically important to everyday Americans.
I urge you to join me in visiting with public employees in your states and listening to their thoughts and concerns about legislation to abolish collective bargaining.
Thank you for your consideration of this important issue.