This post originally appeared at Medium.
I spent 36 years working at the Bridgestone Tire plant in Oklahoma City. The work was hard but rewarding. It afforded me the opportunity to provide for my family, always ensure there was enough food at the table and that my kids were afforded every modest opportunity to grow up in a household that was stable, secure and free from worry. That all changed suddenly in 2006, five years after Oklahoma passed a so-called "right to work" law that was billed by politicians as a job creator. For the 1,400 men and women who worked at the plant, right to work didn’t work as advertised. Not only did the plant close, but the effects of the closing and the chilling effect that right to work has on a state’s economy were felt by everyone.
What is right to work anyway?
Right to work is a dangerous and divisive bill that politicians use to intervene in the rights of people like you and me to negotiate with our bosses as we see fit. The bill is championed by big companies, the same ones that ship jobs overseas, by taking away our rights to organize and negotiate for fair paychecks and safety standards on the job. These companies argue that this will make states more competitive and attract jobs, but, in reality, that doesn’t happen.
So then, what does happen?
All evidence, actual facts, from non-partisan sources show that right to work doesn’t create jobs and actually has a negative effect on states’ economies. We saw this in Oklahoma. In the wake of right to work, the number of new companies relocating to our state has decreased by one-third and the number of manufacturing jobs has also fallen by a third. That’s according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. That same thing is happening in other right to work states as well, seven of the top 10 states with the highest unemployment are right to work states. Worse, the jobs that stay in right to work states are lower paid. On average, workers in right to work states make about $5,000 less a year than in other states.
That means everyone has less money to spend in the community.
That’s the thing that supporters of this bill don’t want you to know. This law takes money out of EVERYONE’s pockets. It means that you will be paid less, that you will have less to spend on groceries, in pharmacies, on going out to dinner or to the movies, on your hobbies and home improvement projects. It means that everyone that you personally interact with on a daily basis has less to spend, spends less and then can’t spend on other things…it’s a vicious cycle.
Worse, right to work means that our communities will be less safe.
Another thing that supporters of right to work don’t tell you is that nurses, teachers, firefighters, and police officers come together collectively to negotiate with politicians over the critical equipment they need to keep our communities safe. Nurses negotiate to ensure there are enough on staff working humane hours to respond when our lives are in danger in hospital emergency rooms. Firefighters negotiate for the equipment they need to safely and quickly put out fires. Police officers negotiate for new equipment to respond to violent emergencies. Teachers negotiate over class sizes. All of these critical negotiations by folks who know how to keep our community safe get threatened by the consequences of this bill.
Right to work is wrong for us and does not work
At the end of the day, all of the reasons that supporters give for this bill are not only false, but are deceiving us from the real reasons they want to pass these bills — to pad the profits of large corporations by allowing them to pay us less, work us more and prevent us from doing anything about it. It’s been 16 years since Oklahoma passed right to work and every single one of the promises made by supporters of the bill failed to materialize. In fact, for those of us who lost jobs after, and who were forced to watch our community suffer because of the bill, we are left wondering why anyone in power would let this happen. As with so many other things that have gotten out of control in our country, the only answer seems to be greed.