Battles May Cripple A Weakened Labor Movement Anti-union efforts are cropping up in many states. And with Republicans in the ascendancy in many statehouses, they have the upper hand against unions, which are traditionally allied with Democrats.
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Battles May Cripple A Weakened Labor Movement

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Battles May Cripple A Weakened Labor Movement

Battles May Cripple A Weakened Labor Movement

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Labor unions and their supporters plan protests in more than a dozen states this week. Those demonstrations will be in support of government workers in Wisconsin, who could lose many of their collective bargaining rights as a result of legislation there. But there's a reason the protests are going national now. Anti-union efforts are underway in other states. NPR's Richard Harris has more.

RICHARD HARRIS: National labor unions are marshalling their forces around the power struggle in Wisconsin. But history professor Stephen Meyer at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee says a lot more is at stake than the unions in this one state.

INSKEEP: Wisconsin has become ground zero for the national labor movement. Already we've got Ohio, possibly New Jersey and other states that are readying similar types of legislation.

HARRIS: Ohio governor John Kasich, for example, is pushing for legislation to eliminate collective bargaining for state employees. Yesterday, union supporters came out to protest.

HARRIS: (Chanting) Kasich no, unions yes. Kasich no, unions yes. Kasich no, unions yes...

HARRIS: Kathleen Arthur, a retired teacher from the Cleveland area, says teachers would be willing to negotiate over pay and benefits to help the state deal with its financial troubles. But that should be done over the bargaining table, not by fiat.

MONTAGNE: Both sides need to be represented. This is America. Everybody has a voice. Not just the party in charge. Everyone has a voice.

HARRIS: If you ask Paul Mishler from Indiana University in South Bend, this is only nominally about state budgets.

INSKEEP: This, quote, "fiscal crisis" or what they see as a fiscal crisis is really an excuse to go after the social and political strength of the unions.

HARRIS: In Indiana, the Chamber of Commerce is a driving force behind efforts to make paying union dues optional. Republican representative Gerald Torr ushered that bill through a key committee on Monday.

INSKEEP: If the union's providing a good service and all of those employees decide to continue paying dues, this bill will have zero effect on them and they will still have the same collective bargaining rights that they have today.

HARRIS: Actually, in the 22 states where union dues are voluntary, unions are exceptionally weak. People tend not to volunteer to pay union dues any more than they volunteer to pay taxes. Richard Vedder, an economist at Ohio University, says so-called right-to-work states, where union dues are voluntary, do tend to see more job growth.

HARRIS: The purpose of unions is to raise wages for their workers. And in many cases they succeed in doing so. However, in doing this, they raise labor costs.

HARRIS: Vedder cites the United Auto Workers Union as part of the reason General Motors went bankrupt. So he sees a system that's out of balance. But James Gregory, a labor professor at the University of Washington, argues that even if you aren't in a union you should be concerned about what could happen.

INSKEEP: It represents not just a loss for unions. It represents sort of more fundamentally a potential loss of important rights, what are fundamentally civil rights.

HARRIS: Richard Harris, NPR News.

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