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"Who Are the Thugs?"
Election Time Is Union-Bashing Time

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Right to Work advocates aren't happy with the 27 states they already own, they want to shut down every union, including the ones that represent New York City's best-in-the-world construction crews.

A misleading political leaflet drives a dagger into the heart of a union man.

It’s election season and there are people who want to influence how you vote by sending you letters in the mail. This is the cautionary story of one such attempt and the importance of reading that material with a skeptical eye.


Union-Built Matters was contacted by a unionized construction worker from New York City who got an appeal from the president of the National Right to Work Committee. It made him see red.


The union man said that in the letter the committee president “used misleading phrases to fool people into thinking unions are bad for America. Unions made this country. But he has funds to raise for his candidates, so what are a few lies?”


This union member asked us to share this story, but he also asked to remain anonymous for a reason that will be explained later in this editorial.


This worker is a member of a long-established construction union in New York City. He served his apprenticeship, logs his required annual training hours, pays his union dues, goes to meetings. He’s worked on some of the city’s most iconic high-rises and feels pride seeing the results of the work he’s done with his union brothers and sisters.

"You would think that a guy like me... would be flush with work. But I'm not. It feels like my work is drying up."

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A promotional image from the New York Ironworkers locals 40 and 136 demonstrates the high risks of the job and the necessity for top-shelf training and certifications. Unions vet and prepare their workers.

"We're losing too many jobs"

“You would think that a guy like me, a union man, with my record of productivity, with my experience putting up these buildings, and New York in a construction boom, that I would be flush with work. But I’m not. It feels like my work is drying up.”


He said that’s because the biggest developers of buildings in New York are leading a “race to the bottom on project bids.” The general contractors who hire the teams that do the work “all want everything cheaper and cheaper,” he said, “and [my union] is losing too many bids to open-shop.”


Open-shop. The dreaded phrase that unions translate into “less work for us.” Open-shop contractors do not require union membership of their workers. And that’s the main reason why they can meet the demands of contractors seeking cheap labor. “When the workers have no representation,” the union man said, “management can set the terms and do what they want."


But as the union member explained, it’s harder for unions to meet developers' low-bid demands. “Unions protect their members. They promise us fair pay, benefits, safety training so we can go home after our shift. Our unions demand these things for us. Is it wrong to expect these things when you’re working in the elements on a 58-story high-rise, with a deadline, and meeting exacting engineering specs? Is it wrong to require your employer to treat you fairly? Because the open-shops, they make no demands on behalf of their workers. And it shows in the work that’s done. But they can do it cheaper and that’s all that matters.”


“We’re losing too many jobs,” he said.

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The offending letter just before it found its way into a recycling bin.

A letter arrives

Then this week, this experienced tradesman got an appeal from the National Right to Work Committee telling him to vote against politicians who favor unions. “One of the very first lines says, ‘you should oppose being forced into a union.’ That’s a flat out lie. It’s illegal to force any worker to join a union. That was part of the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act) back in the 30s. And until they bring back the draft, no one can be forced to join anything in this country. And here’s this executive throwing around that line like it’s happening everyday in the workplace, like unions are strong-arming employees against their will. But thanks to Right to Work, the opposite is true. Most places, you can’t join a union even if you wanted to.”


Indeed, union membership, though experiencing a moment of public attention, has been on a steady decline in this country for decades and one major cause is the Right to Work laws that have been passed in 27 US states, which allow all workers to get the benefits negotiated by unions without those workers having to belong or contribute to the union. As a result, union size and influence has been radically diminished over the years. Because of Right to Work laws it is harder to join a construction union in some US states than it is to get into Yale.


“‘Right to Work’ sounds very American, doesn’t it?” the union man said. “But if they were honest they’d rename their movement ‘Oppress the Unions Because We Want to Deliver More Money to Rich Business People.” He said, “The letter calls union leaders ‘thugs.’ I wonder if this president of the Right to Work Commission has ever met a union man. All we want is work and to be treated properly. That’s it.”


"Who are the thugs?"

“But who are the thugs?” he continued. “The right to work people have destroyed unions in most states. They’ve used despicable tactics to drive us apart and fancy language to misrepresent what they stand for.”


And to put an exclamation on the insult of the letter, the president of the National Right to Work Committee asked this under-employed union man with decades of experience but dimming work prospects to send the committee a check for up to $250.


“I won’t tell you the words I used when I got to that part. It’s unprintable.”


Why does this man want to remain anonymous? Because he says he may one day be forced to consider “crossing over,” in his words, to work non-union. He explains that if union work continues to diminish for him and his colleagues they will have no choice. “Trust me, that makes me die inside. But I have a family to feed and if things keep up the way they’re going…”


New York City’s race to the bottom steals work from our best tradesmen and hands the spoils to wealthy developers. Vote for candidates who support unions. That's what's right for America.

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"All we want is work and to be treated properly. That’s it,” said the union man who was solicited by a Right to Work mailer to vote against candidates who favor unions. He threw the mailer away. 

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