Thomas R. Henchey, Business Manager
About So Called "Right to Work" Legislation...
These days, much is written, and discussed, about the so called "Right to Work." It is important to distinguish between the human Right to Work, as it pertains to basic human rights, and the latest "Right to Work law" proposals. Organized electricians join the working men and women across America in fighting this attempt to artificially lower our wages by placing tradesmen who have organized at a distinct disadvantage.
While right to work laws have not been passed in Pennsylvania, we have seen that the same anti-worker propaganda that drove this legislation in formerly strong United States manufacturing states like Michigan and Indiana is also present here. We must be very careful, as citizens, as workers, not to be drawn in and seduced by any language that promises an "easy fix" to our country's lingering economic challenges. Even as things get better, many workers, electricians in Pennsylvania and others, still seek the dignity and security offered by full-time employment - at a livable wage.
We at IBEW Local l 229 feel it is important to remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, who spoke eloquently and directly on the issue of Right to Work. Dr. King identified very clearly the menace that this kind of legislation - and thinking - poses to all workers and Pennsylvania trades people, affiliated and non.
We must never forget that Dr. King died while marching with the Memphis Sanitation workers, to uphold their right to organize and bargain collectively. These workers were organizing for both wages and dignity as Dr. King told his audience the night before he died.
Previously, on the specific subject of called Right to Work Laws, Dr. King noted in 1961:
“We must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.” —Dr. Martin Luther King
While those of us who work in the construction trades have our own issues unique to our individual skills and craft, compared to those Memphis Sanitation workers, it is also true that without their efforts, the lives of working men and women in both our state and the United States would be quite different. For this we are in their debt, as well as the Pennsylvania workers and tradesmen and women who have preceded us. We are the guardians of their legacy, and the actions we take now will impact our children's and grand-children's future.
Right to work supposes that construction costs, specifically, the cost of the skilled labor required to construct and maintain Central Pennsylvania's buildings and critical infrastructure, is artificially high - due to, quote, “Big Labor's” selfish interference and meddling. To cap it off, say Right to Work proponents, collective bargaining exists to benefit a handful of "Union Bosses."
Please allow us to debunk this myth.
Pennsylvania Electrical Contractors and Shops that Survive....and Thrive!
Our affiliated contractors all run successful businesses - that are bound by the same market forces as any other. These businesses have survived through-out the years, and in some cases decades, for one reason : we understand that we must always provide exceptional value, and return on investment (ROI) to general contractors, developers, and project and property managers - as well as to Long Island's residents - on whatever project we work on.
“Right to work” would, in fact, artificially suppress the wages of workers who have devoted years of their lives developing the necessary skills and on the job training required to perform necessary energy upgrades and safe electrical work. It is this training that will help Pennsylvania preserve, protect, and upgrade its grid, and related energy systems, in the years to come.
Since the so-called Right to Work is weak on the facts, its sole basis is a reliance on fear - the well known "race to the bottom." It is a fear-based story - with an ugly and unsettling history.
Its proponents, will tout it as a job creator, when in fact, it is a "wage suppressor." Every day we read more and more stories about the devastating impact of wage inequality is having on ordinary families and workers in Pennsylvania and the United States. Again, what type of legacy do we wish to leave our children? Both the Central Pennsylvania affiliated electricians and the workers in the communities around us share this responsibility.
We all benefit when buildings and facilities are safely constructed and properly maintained by those best trained to do so – trained electricians and energy workers who are compensated by a working, livable wage. This in turn stimulates our surrounding economy. What Pennsylvania business – of any kind – does not benefit from workers, who are locally invested, with actual disposable income to spend? Economists term this well-known impact "the multiplier effect." As members, both of the Central Pennsylvania electricians and our surrounding community, we must familiarize ourselves with these arguments and not be taken in by sound bites and slogans that are profoundly anti-worker. Any avoidance of these basic economic facts, no matter how much the “steak may sizzle” is pure fantasy.
Just because something is priced lowed doesn't mean it costs less. When safety is compromised, and jobs are short cut, we are all at risk.
Please do not take these words as my sole opinion. The IBEW's safety and training instructors will all say exactly this : the intricacies of modern day electrical work and energy infrastructure - in the current environment - create both security and safety challenges.
At times, in the name of winning contracts, these risks are downplayed by firms and owners who either have :
1) not made similar investments in requisite safety and training
2) seek to impose restrictions on Pennsylvania towns and municipalities' ability to decide collectively the best way ahead with our necessary structural improvements.
To be sure, there are also some non-affiliated electrical firms on Pennsylvania who provide excellent training and care deeply about the safety of their workers. To such firms and their electrical workers, we extend our hand : join us! Any "race to the bottom" in our trade will adversely impact your business as well.
As always, I am sure you will have questions, and "real world" business concerns.
Please get in touch with myself or one of our business reps so that we may address these.
Tom Henchey, Business Manager
On Behalf of Affiliated Electricians of IBEW 229