By Laura Byrne | June 21st, 2016
Teachers, firefighters, nurses and other public servants dedicate their careers to helping others. They deserve the unfaltering support of a grateful nation.
Yet some extremists want to undermine these hard-working public servants’ ability to negotiate a fair wage and essential benefits by touting so-called “right to work” laws.
Don’t be misled by these extremists’ seemingly harmless language.
The stakes are very high for people like Jenny Taylor, a nurse at a major Portland-area hospital, whose previous job was in a “right to work” state. She experienced first-hand the contrast in working conditions and patient safety when nurses lack a strong workplace voice.
Her patient load there was often nearly three times what it is here in Oregon, leading to more negative outcomes or at times longer hospital stays for patients. Pay and benefits were significantly less and the ability to advocate for the safety of patients was diminished.
Here’s the inescapable fact those extremists don’t want you to know about the damage their efforts wreak on teachers, firefighters, nurses and others: The average worker in states with these anti-worker laws makes $5,971 less annually than workers in states that protect workers’ rights, when all other factors are removed.
That’s a full 12 percent disparity. And that gap reveals the sad truth about right-wing, anti-union, anti-worker laws – they are a partisan political ploy devised to undercut the basic rights of workers.
If that disparity wasn’t bad enough, the damage done by that massive wage difference ripples out to the rest of the economy in states with these anti-worker laws. Lower wages in these states means a smaller tax base to fund real priorities like education, roads and law enforcement.
We see this battle over anti-union, anti-worker laws in all too many states, like in Wisconsin where these laws have deeply damaged the rights of workers.
The bottom line is this: Working families are the bedrock of American society, helping to boost our children’s success in the classroom, to make hospital patients well again and to rush to the aid of every one of us if disaster strikes.
Our country should be making it easier, not harder, for those families and their children to get ahead.
As Oregonians, we must reject any effort to divide our communities with unfair attacks on unions. We should be pushing forward to preserve and create good jobs.
And a huge part of that approach is acknowledging that workers’ right to bargain collectively for fair wages, hours, and working conditions is essential to economic justice.
Without these rights, not only will the middle class continue to dwindle, but so will opportunities for our children to succeed.
Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both of Portland, are Oregon’s U.S. senators. Contact Wyden at 221 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510, (202) 224-5244; or wyden.senate.gov. Contact Merkley at 313 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510, (202) 224-3753; or merkley.senate.gov.