Rob Roper Has the Right to be Wrong
By Martha Allen
It’s always fun – in a what-will-they-come-up-with-next kind of way – to read the ramblings from Vermont’s most prolific right-wing think tank. And the latest screed from Ethan Allen Institute President Rob Roper doesn’t disappoint.
Waving the “results” of a “poll” done under the auspices of a national anti-union group and funded in part by a company shilling liability insurance to teachers, Roper claims that a majority of Vermonters want the freedom to join or leave a labor union, and then goes on to assert that the General Assembly’s support of workers’ real rights is “out of touch” with Vermonters.
With all due respect, it is Roper and his tired anti-worker, pro-corporation mantra (repeated from the Koch Brothers’ national pro-billionaire playbook) who are out of touch.
To begin with, workers in Vermont are free to join unions – or not join. And, believe it or not, people are free to leave unions, too. Indeed, looking into the methodology of the “polling” done as part of the laughably named “National Employee Freedom Week” reveals a two-question survey that wouldn’t pass muster in an elementary school statistics course let alone reality. The same “poll” asserts that almost a third of union members would choose to quit if they could do so while retaining the benefits won by the union – even without paying dues. (Ever ask someone if they would rather pay for something or get it for free? That’s what we’re talking about here).
Putting aside the “results” touted by Roper, let’s look to the fundamental part of his argument – that so-called right-to-work states are better for working men and women. And while Roper – in typical fashion – cherry picks information that purports to show workers better off in states that have all but obliterated unions in favor of granting enormous power to corporations and employers, the actual facts tell a far different story.
Before getting to the punch line (spoiler alert: you’re better off here in Vermont and other non-right-to-work states), let’s remember what unions did for America. The rise of unions in the private and public sectors coincided with a rise in the country’s middle class. It brought wage and hour laws; abolished child labor; instituted overtime pay; instituted due process in hiring and firing decisions; led to better pay and benefits at union and non-union shops; and was on the forefront of the greatest economic expansion the country had ever experienced. In short, unions and their members raised the standards of living of both members and non-members alike.
Sadly, the anti-worker crusaders and their acolytes like Roper have helped tip the balance in favor of corporations and away from working men and women and their families. While that crusade has had muted success in the more than half of the states – like Vermont – that do not limit the formation of unions, it is a constant reminder that without unions, workers everywhere get less.
Auditor Doug Hoffer crunched some numbers (from non-think tank sources) and found that contrary to Roper’s assertion that our elected officials are leading us in the wrong direction, union-friendly Vermont is doing well. Vermont is doing better than 21 of the 24 right-to-work states in a bunch of categories that should matter to working people: unemployment, median household income, growth in our economy to name a few. Our growth in per capita income is better than in 17 of the 24 right-to-work states; and, in the kicker, 10 of the right-to-work states lost more of their manufacturing job base than we did since 1990.
While the Vermont legislature in recent years – overwhelmingly not Republican – has been friendly to working men and women and their right to organize, it’s not because they are out of touch. It’s because they are representing the interests of their constituents, who, every other year, return them to Montpelier.
We agree with Roper in his desire for more fairness, common sense and prosperity in Vermont. (Who doesn’t?) Fortunately, he and his anti-worker brigade aren’t the ones in Montpelier making decisions that represent the real interests of Vermont’s working families.
Martha Allen, of Canaan, is president of Vermont-NEA. She writes on behalf of Working Vermont, the coalition of labor unions that represent more than 90,000 Vermonters in working families.