Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Growing Trouble in the Middle West

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
While Wisconsin has been getting all of the press lately, attacks on workers and their unions are escalating across the country, with resistance also growing. On Monday, 10,000 workers demonstrated at Indiana’s statehouse against a range of anti-worker bills before the legislature.

The laws would make Indiana a “right-to-work” state (AKA Right to Work for Less), which would lower wages and gut bargaining rights for many public and private sector workers, including teachers. Despite the protests and testimony by workers against the bill, the Indiana House labor committee voted 8-5 to send the bill to the full house for approval.

Current law requires non-union contractors to pay union scale wages. The new laws would ban this, creating an incentive for contractors to hire non-union labor and lower their wages in order to win low-ball bids. The laws would also prevent teachers from bargaining on anything but wages and benefits, destroying their due process rights in disciplinary matters and eliminating the right to bargain on working conditions issues like class size.

Meanwhile, Ohio’s right-wing governor, John Kasich, is leading efforts to demolish his state’s public employee unions. Under the proposed laws, salary schedules and step systems would be replaced by “merit pay” for many state workers and they would also lose the right to bargain for their health care plans and would have to pay at least 20 percent of the cost. The state would be able to terminate or renegotiate contracts in the case of “fiscal emergencies,” such as their current $8 billion deficit.

Like virtually all politicians (state and federal), Kasich has promised to balance his budget without raising taxes, even after providing the rich with numerous tax breaks. This means making everyone but the richest 10% pay for the budget crisis through pay and benefits cuts, slashing of social programs, and eviscerating workers’ ability to fight back. To achieve the latter goal, Kasich has announced that he wants to ban public employee strikes.

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