In 2001, Beatrice G. was working for a textile company in Oklahoma. She had a union job, making a decent wage, with enough benefits that she did not worry about her husband’s failing health financially crippling their finances. Beatrice worked a 40 hour work week, bringing home enough money to pay all her families bills, including college tuition for her son, Gregory. She had job security in her union job, producing quality fabrics for clothing, furnishings, and after-market automotive parts. Beatrice had no idea that her lifestyle was about to be destroyed by the Oklahoma State Legislature the same year.
2001 was also the year Oklahoma Republicans pushed to end unions on Oklahoma, while instituting the state as a “right to work”. The legislation intended to create jobs in Oklahoma by allowing companies the ability to hire and fire at will. The union stripping law passed in Oklahoma, essentially ending unions in the state. Companies could now fire workers for unionizing, or even mentioning the word “union”.
The jobs never came to Oklahoma. Before the ink was dry on the legislation, many companies began telling employees that their unions must disband, or the employees would be fired. Without the unions, companies were no longer negotiated into staying in Oklahoma. Massive layoffs occurred across the state as companies replaced expensive union workers with cheaper laborers.
For Beatrice, the legislation proved a nightmare. In October 2001, following the events of September 11th and the start of the War in Afghanistan, her company announced it was closing its doors in Oklahoma. Beatrice and 2,000 other workers found themselves unemployed, with only a three-months pay severance package in hand. The union had kept the company in Oklahoma, employing American workers. Now, the new law allowed the company to close its plant, while opening a new factory in Cambodia.
Beatrice was out of work for a year before she found another job. She took a job in another factory across the state from where her family was living. The job paid half of what she made before, with no benefits. Her son took out student loans to finish his degree from Oklahoma State University. Her husband’s health deteriorated rapidly without insurance and care. Beatrice sold the house, opting to rent a small apartment. She sold her car, riding a bike to work in the Oklahoma weather year-round. She filed for bankruptcy due to medical bills in 2005. Her husband died in 2006.
Beatrice now works at a grocery store, while living with her son. She is still paying off her bankruptcy settlement and owes nearly $100,000 in overdue debt. For Beatrice, the American dream is not to be rich. It is to be able to live without hurting her son’s future.
Beatrice’s story is not unique. Over the past 20 years, unions have come under attack by Republicans. When the unions leave, the jobs follow. Wages for workers in right to work states are lower than union states. The number of jobs created is lower than in states allowing unions.
The fight over unions in America has hit Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Each of these states currently has a Republican governor and controlled state legislature. Voters have pushed back against stripping the unions in their states. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is facing a recall election for his collective bargaining legislation.
Companies have pushed against unions in an attempt to strip workers rights. The companies have even started a political action committee to run advertisements against unions. One such commercial aired during last nights Super Bowl. The commercial asked, “Did you get a vote in joining a union”. The viewers responded, “We did not get a vote in our company moving overseas. We did not get a vote when the company laid of 20,000 American workers”.
Companies do not want unions because they must provide a living wage and benefits for the employees, and the unions keep the company anchored in the local area.
For the unions, the fight is political. Unions are the largest supporters of the Democratic Party in America. Three of the top ten political contributing organizations in America are unions. The unions are the only three donors Democrats have in the top ten. Republicans are helping send jobs overseas, raise corporate profits, and remove political donations to Democratic candidates by stripping union rights from workers. The move has nothing to do with budgets or jobs, but with greed and politics.
For Beatrice, the push to save the unions is too late. For the millions of people facing the same situation, today is critical. They know what the future holds, and they are standing up for their unions. Should Americans be content to watch decent paying jobs move to foreign countries, so companies can make a few extra dollars for their shareholders?
Fight against union stripping laws by supporting union workers rights in your state.