Dear Ramona,Yesterday at the opening session of the 2009 AFL-CIO Convention in Pittsburgh, I had the opportunity to thank my family, staff and labor leaders from across the country and around the world for their commitment, personal sacrifice and hard work during the past 14 years. Today, I want to thank you.
I've loved our labor movement all my life. There is no greater honor than the opportunity to serve working people. It has been an amazing 14 years, and together we transformed the debate over globalization and helped redefine the global labor movement as a champion of workers' rights. We called the hand of the greedy corporations that sent our jobs overseas, scammed our mortgage markets and nearly destroyed our economy.
We brought health care and labor law reform to the top of our national agenda. We seated a pro-working-family majority in the United States Congress. We elected a champion of working families as the first African American president in the history of our country.
We changed the direction of our country, and we should be just as proud of how we changed our movement. We built the strongest grassroots political operation in our country and brought hundreds of thousands of union volunteers into the fight to protect the dreams we share. We knew we were faced with building a movement on changing ground, and we reached out to organizations and workers outside our walls.
At the opening of our 2009 convention, I'm filled with optimism. We've helped create one of those rare moments when history invites dramatic improvement in the human condition.
But the excitement over our possibilities is tempered by the realities of our times. We're seeing glimmers of an economic recovery, yet nearly 20 million of our brothers and sisters are still without work. The poor and the out-of-work are no longer invisible or abstract figures—they're our friends and neighbors, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters.
We're on the cusp of the greatest advance in labor law reform in 70 years, but we're taking heavy fire from the corporate captains of deceit. We're closer than ever to winning our long struggle for universal health care, but our success has kindled a firestorm of meanness stoked by politicians playing on fear, racism, nativism and greed.
Every one of our achievements represents unfinished business—and the tasks we're challenged with are daunting. But if there is one thing we've learned over the past 14 years, it is this: Miracles present themselves on the shoulders of commitment, unity and action.
At the center of these is unity—the solidarity that flows through the marrow of our movement. For us, solidarity is more than just a strategy, it's a way of life. We believe in helping each other. We care about our brothers and sisters.
Solidarity is what gives workers the collective courage to form a union, to fight back against a greedy employer.
Solidarity is what compelled thousands of first responders and construction workers to risk their lives at Ground Zero eight years ago last Friday.
Solidarity is what saved 155 airline passengers who could have drowned in the icy waters of the Hudson River.
Solidarity is what compels a firefighter to dive into an inferno to save a stranger, a teacher to refuse to give up on a child or back off from a battle with a school board.
Now it is up to you to bring even more solidarity, revive our economy and make it work for everyone.
We will pass the Employee Free Choice Act and help millions of America's workers lift their lives and realize their aspirations. We will guarantee every family in America health care when they need it. And we will be true to our enduring mission of improving the lives of working families, bringing fairness and dignity to our workplaces and securing economic and social equity in our nation.
That's our mission, that's our job—let's get at it.
John J. Sweeney
Labor Warrior At-Large
It started, "Dear Ramona", and was signed by Mark Mix, head of NRW. (Somewhere down the road, I either accidentally wandered onto their website or they got my email address from somewhere and added me to their list. However it happened, I've been getting regular emailings from them. At first, I couldn't believe what I was reading and I almost took my name off of their list. But then the "know your enemy" strategy kicked in and so, when I can stomach it, I venture into enemy territory and open one of their links.)
But what struck me about those two emails was the stark contrasts of opinion about the same issue. Who is right? (The question is rhetorical. I know the answer.)
Mark Mix (no relation to Tom Mix, he says. That should make Tom very happy.) and his crowd want me to believe that:
The Right to Work principle--the guiding concept of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation--affirms the right of every American to work for a living without being compelled to belong to a union. Compulsory unionism in any form--"union," "closed," or "agency" shop--is a contradiction of the Right to Work principle and the fundamental human right that the principle represents. The National Right to Work Committee advocates that every individual must have the right, but must not be compelled, to join a labor union. The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation assists employees who are victimized because of their assertion of that principle.Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO wants me to believe they're wrong:
To set the record (and the name) straight, right to work for less doesn’t guarantee any rights. In fact, by weakening unions and collective bargaining, it destroys the best job security protection that exists: the union contract. Meanwhile, it allows workers to pay nothing and get all the benefits of union membership. Right to work laws say unions must represent all eligible employees, whether they pay dues or not. This forces unions to use their time and members’ dues money to provide union benefits to free riders who are not willing to pay their fair share.Mark Mix and pals ask, What effect does a Right to Work law have on a state's standard of living?
The National Right to Work Committee has called attention to the fact that Right to Work states enjoy a higher standard of living than do non-Right to Work states. Families in Right to Work states, on average, have greater after-tax income and purchasing power than do those families living in non-Right to Work states, independent studies reveal. What's more, Right to Work states have greater economic vitality, official Department of Labor statistics show, with faster growth in manufacturing and nonagricultural jobs, lower unemployment rates and fewer work stoppages.The AFL-CIO says the opposite:
Right to work laws lower wages for everyone. The average worker in a right to work state makes about $5,333 a year less than workers in other states ($35,500 compared with $30,167). Weekly wages are $72 greater in free-bargaining states than in right to work states ($621 versus $549). Working families in states without right to work laws have higher wages and benefit from healthier tax bases that improve their quality of life.While Mark Mix and posse see smoke signals on the horizon:
The AFL-CIO sees a safe haven:
How does compulsory unionism affect government policy?Compulsory unionism is primarily responsible for the Tax-and-Spend policies of the U.S. Congress. Under their federally-granted coercive powers, union officials collect some $4.5 billion annually in compulsory dues and funnel much of it into unreported campaign operations to elect and control congressional majorities dedicated to higher taxes and increased government spending.
Right to work endangers safety and health standards that protect workers on the job by weakening unions that help to ensure worker safety by fighting for tougher safety rules. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is 51 percent higher in states with right to work, where unions can’t speak up on behalf of workers.Mark Mix sees coercion everywhere but in the boss's office:
What is "exclusive representation"?"Exclusive representation" is the special coercive privilege, given by federal law, that empowers union officials to represent all employees in a company's bargaining unit. This "compulsory union representation" deprives employees, even in Right to Work states, of their right to bargain for themselves. Union officials demand this power, then use it as their excuse to force employees to pay dues for representation they do not want. The unions see it as protection:
Federal law already protects workers who don’t want to join a union to get or keep their jobs. Supporters claim right to work laws protect employees from being forced to join unions. Don’t be fooled—federal law already does this, as well as protecting nonmembers from paying for union activities that violate their religious or political beliefs. This individual freedom argument is a sham.
The email from Mark Mix might have scared the beejesus out of me if I hadn't already seen his kind in action before. He said:
During the last elections, Big Labor spent more than a BILLION dollars in forced-dues cash to create a national tidal wave of victories for its handpicked candidates. Now they’re demanding PAYBACK!The union bosses are moving at lightning speed to ram through the most extreme socialistic items on their agenda --they’ve been waiting decades for exactly this moment!But at the very top of their agenda are moves to seize more special privileges for coercive unionism. In fact, forced unionism power grabs are at the very heart of the bailout bills, health care overhaul bills, and numerous other laws being pushed by Congress right now.
Man! Where do I sign up? But. . .what's this?
Now I’m writing to all of the Foundation’s best supporters because, according to my calculations, if you and our other most generous supporters gave a gift of $250 to the Foundation today, it would be enough to fully fund the rest of our 2009 program.I realize that $250 is a lot to ask, but so much is at stake.
You see, I know a few people won’t give at all right now. They will count on others to carry their load.
That's why, if at all possible, I ask you for a very generous contribution of $500.
That may be more than you’ve given in a single gift before, but I hope you will seriously consider digging this deep.
More than anything, such a request is a testament to just how critical the Foundation’s ongoing projects and financial needs are.
But, if I can count on generous donors like you to give such a contribution now, I could put aside any thoughts of scaling back our program and focus on the business of challenging Big Labor’s abuses.
I hope you understand how much is at stake.
With the resources provided by your contribution, the Foundation can maintain and perhaps even increase its aggressive attack on Big Labor’s compulsory unionism schemes. Your support could not come at a better time than now, given the challenges we face.We’ve been able to rely on you before, and I’m hoping that you’ll come through for the Foundation now. If, for some reason, you just can’t send $500 today, please give at least the full $250 or whatever you can afford right away.
Whether you give $500 or $250 -- or if a lesser amount is the most you can afford right now -- please submit your Supporter's Directive giving me your advice and be as generous as you are able.
Please, help today. Your contribution will make a difference.
P.S. The union bosses are moving at lightning speed to crush all opposition to expansion of their government-granted special privileges. This is their best shot in decades to move Card Check Forced Unionism and other radical measures into reality.
The National Right to Work Foundation has its back against the wall as we fight Big Labor’s assault. Yet at this crucial moment, I fear the Foundation will not have the resources to fight against all the threats you and I face.
Please let me have your advice by filling out your Supporter’s Directive today. And I really hope you will make a tax-deductible contribution of $500 or at least $250 or whatever you can afford today.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. . . .(catches breath). . .ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. . . . .(rolls off couch). . . .ha ha ha.
I had such a headache. You wouldn't believe. . .
So I went back and read John Sweeney's letter. Poof! Headache gone. All it took was a breath of fresh air.