Anti-Labor State Laws Threaten Workers’ Rights, Undermine Unions
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For all the progress that has been made within the labor movement over the last few years, there have still been some significant setbacks, particularly at the state level. While some state legislators have passed legislation that protects workers and encourages union growth, others have worked to suppress workers rights and weaken unions.
Here’s a look at some of those efforts.
Florida Passes New Union Dues Law
In May 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB 256 into law. It’s a piece of legislation that restricts public sector unions’ abilities to collect dues and threatens their ability to operate in the state.
“The new law is state-sanctioned harassment of Florida’s public sector workers when we should be supporting and celebrating their contributions,” laments Florida Rep. Angie Nixon, a former member of the Florida Public Services Union.
The law has two main components:
- It bans automatic paycheck deductions for public sector union dues.
- It requires public sector unions to provide data about membership numbers to prove they represent at least 60 percent of the total bargaining unit. If not, they can be decertified.
Such policies could spell disaster for public sector unions in the state, as is the intent of those supporting the legislation — although they claim it gives workers more freedoms. Unions are fighting back by hosting membership drives to encourage people to join and filing lawsuits to stop the implementation of the legislation.
“It’s kind of like do or die, because this law is ultimately an attack on working class people,” says Se’Adoria “Cee Cee” Brown, president of American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 199.
Texas Eliminates Mandatory Water Breaks for Construction Workers
At a time when parts of the country are dealing with record heat waves, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill that will nullify local ordinances in the cities of Austin and Dallas that mandate 10-minute breaks every four hours for construction workers. The law also goes one step further and also prevents any other cities from passing similar laws.
Nicknamed the “death star” law, it essentially strips workers of basic protections and denies local governments the ability to pass laws that protect their citizens if such laws are in conflict with state law. City leaders, unions, and labor advocates are calling it an overreach of government that will result in higher death rates for construction workers.
“In the midst of a record-setting heatwave, I could not think of a worse time for this governor or any elected official who has any, any kind of compassion, to do this,” said David Cruz, the communications director for League of United Latin American Citizens National, a Latino civil rights organization.
“This is an emergency,” warns Texas AFL-CIO Deputy Director of Policy and Politics Ana Gonzalez. “Texas is the deadliest state when it comes to construction, where one worker dies every three days in our state.”
Tennessee Codifies Right to Work
While some states have been rejecting right-to-work laws, Tennessee has voted to enshrine right-to-work in its constitution. Tennessee became a right-to-work state in 1947, but voters voted to codify that right in November 2022, essentially making it nearly impossible to reverse course.
Supporters of the amendment say they want it in the constitution to protect the state as right to work should the federal government pass legislation that outlaws the right to work. Those against it say it’s unnecessary; the amendment only takes away the option for the state’s right-to-work status to change in the future.
“Future generations are cut out of any opportunity to amend it if they need to,” says Ken Osborne, an officer with United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (UA) Local 538. “It’s going to be there until you have a constitutional convention or until a major miracle comes up and they amend the law.”
Disappointed by the results of the vote even in a state that doesn’t have a strong union presence, Kevin Bradshaw, president of Memphis and West Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council, blames the results on a lack of awareness of what unions do for working people.
“Working people don’t understand what unions are really about,” says Bradshaw. “Right-to-work is not a right to work. It’s a right to get fired.”
Unions have a critical role to play in educating working people about how unions protect them and why they should be voting to strengthen, not weaken, unions. The labor movement needs more people to stand together in solidarity and lobby against anti-labor legislation that is stripping away workers’ rights.
Leaders can use a tool like UnionTrack® ENGAGE® to engage members in union advocacy to rally more support for their organizations and bring in more members.
Images used under license from Shutterstock.com.