Sen. Paul's economic medicine: Crush unions

While I am used to getting mail from politicians and political groups, the return address on a recent letter stood out - Rand Paul, United States Senator.

Well, it wasn't really a return address, because there was no address from Washington, D.C. or Kentucky, the state the libertarian-leaning Republican represents. Just the name and title. Opening it, I found Paul sent me the letter not in his capacity as a senator, or even a potential presidential candidate, but in care of the National Right to Work Committee.

The deceptively named Right to Work movement would be more accurately titled, the Right to Get the Benefits and Protections of a Union Contract While Welching on Helping Pay for Them. Of course, that would be a very long name.

In right-to-work states, union members cannot be compelled to pay union dues. The argument is that because some of the dues could be used to support a candidate a union member may not like - i.e. a Democrat - or pursue a policy a member doesn't agree with, they shouldn't have to pay.

The real motivation is to weaken unions. It is hard to be united without any power to impose unity.

Twenty-four states have right-to-work laws, mostly Republican red southern and western states. No New England states have adopted the union-busting law, but it was quite a blow for organized labor when Michigan - once a bastion of union power - last year passed one.

Paul's letter sought my support for passing a federal National Right to Work Act, covering all states. A testament to the fact I read plenty of material online from the right and left, the organization's computer software apparently saw me as a good target. The letter from Paul asks me to sign a petition and send some money, $1,000 preferably.

I didn't do either.

What did strike me was the vitriolic rhetoric the letter uses to try to get my signature and money.

"This cash funds violent 'organizing' drives," it says of the compulsory union dues. Funny, I don't recall reading about unions beating people into signing union cards. I'm confident that would lead to labor complaints by businesses.

"Big Labor's power is deadly to millions of small businesses," Paul writes.

Not it's not. Instead, better pay via a union contract could help small businesses by creating customers who actually have money in their pocket.

Then there is this:

"Productivity-killing work rules, workplace class warfare, slowdowns, sick-outs and strikes, all have taken their crippling toll, closing the doors of many businesses."

That's a lie. Strikes are now rare. Unions have shown a willingness to make concessions to keep businesses in operation. It happened in the auto industry. Doors are not closing because of unions, but because corporate America continues to shift jobs overseas, boosting profits by way of cheap labor, crushing America's middle class in the process.

Most amazing is that all this venom and fear mongering is aimed at a group in continued decline. Unionized workers make up only 6.6 percent of the private-sector workforce, an historically low number. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, is declining as well. It is absurd to suggest that unions, and their ability to collect dues, are to blame for the decline of the middle class.

Yet the myth of out-of-control unions remains a boogeyman that can be used to fire up the conservative base. With Democrats in control of the Senate and President Obama in the White House, there is no chance of a federal right-to-welch law passing. But Sen. Paul hopes that won't stop people from sending a check.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

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