Rep. K. Williams: 'Right to work' laws would hurt Delawareans

The follwoing op-ed appears in the March 6 edition of the News Journal.

By Rep. Kim Williams

Delaware’s snowy winter has been especially difficult for the thousands in our state who can’t find good jobs to support themselves and their families, or who feel trapped in jobs that don’t pay them enough to meet their needs and plan for their futures. They read about record days for the stock market, growing GDP or rising home prices, and they feel like they’re falling behind.

I see it every day in the district I represent, and my colleagues in Legislative Hall see it where they live also. It’s our duty to try to change things for the better during our terms in office, to put forth ideas that will broaden prosperity in our state and give the people we represent the best opportunity to provide for their families.

It’s also our duty to speak up when we hear others talking about ideas that we know will do more to harm the prosperity of Delaware’s middle class than they will to lift it.

Recently, some elected officials have suggested Delaware move toward becoming a “right to work” state, limiting workers’ ability to organize and negotiate. A plan has been presented to designate standalone “right to work” zones at certain industrial sites in Delaware; zones where unions would be handicapped in their ability to represent workers’ interests and collectively bargain with the companies employing them.

Though the doctrine of “right to work” is presented as a pro-jobs, pro-worker concept, the term itself is misleading. In fact, “right to work” has almost nothing to do with the rights of workers, and everything to do with a certain partisan, anti-union message presented on behalf of big business.

I have lived in a union household my entire life. My dad was a union electrician for over 30 years. For many years, I worked in the office of a union contracting company. And my husband was a member of the United Auto Workers for 29 years until General Motors closed its Boxwood Road plant in Newport. One of these “right to work” zones being proposed is the former GM plant, which is right next to my district.

Several states across the country have adopted “right to work” laws of some form over the years, which means we can compare prosperity in states where organized labor is free to represent workers and states where workers’ rights to organize are curtailed.

A 2012 report from the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan agency of Congress, showed that there is no conclusive evidence proving “right to work” laws spur job growth or reduce unemployment.

The CRS did find hard evidence that shows average wages are $7,000 lower per person in “right to work” states than in states that respect the role of unions. That is a huge hit for families when every dollar counts. The report also cited research showing better records of on-the-job safety and lower rates of work-related injuries in states where unions are more active.

The union jobs that supported me and my family through the years are exactly the kind of jobs we wish we had more of in Delaware and across the country: a mix of skilled and unskilled positions that came with stability, good wages and benefits families can count on.

The rationale behind the “right to work” plans floated here recently is that companies will be more likely to locate in Delaware if they don’t have to worry about their workers someday attempting to negotiate their pay, benefits and working conditions. It’s hanging out a sign to the corporate world that says “Come to Delaware, where they’ll work cheap!”

That’s not the message I want to send to the thousands of people I represent who hope each day for a better opportunity, for fairness, and for a chance to grab the next rung on the ladder.