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Nomination for the most abused word in the English language: FREEDOM.

Whenever corporations want to escape from regulations that call for maintaining a safe and healthful workplace or that require them to send uncontaminated food into the marketplace, they trot out the word “freedom.”

How often have you heard it expressed that such rules are needless inferences and stifle job growth? And hasn’t that been followed with a plea for freedom from “the heavy hand” of government?

Now, in Wisconsin, the word freedom is becoming misused again as proponents seek to bum rush to passage their anti-union law prohibiting union shop agreements that call for all workers in the bargaining unit to pay union dues or a fee for the cost of representation. The proponents claim the law is needed give workers the “freedom” whether or not to pay for union representation.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Who can be against freedom?

But the reality is that the proposed (and misnamed ‘right-to-work’) law does little to give workers any freedom in the workplace. Instead it gives the boss greater freedom to force low wages, lousy benefits and oppressive working conditions upon its employees.

Laws that ban union shop-type agreements have become all the rage for Republican-controlled states; the fact is the laws do nothing to help ordinary workers. The laws have three purposes: 1) to pay off the corporate donors of many Republican donors; 2) to weaken unions so that they become less and less of a resource for progressive legislation, and 3) to give the bosses a union-free hand to push workers around as they see fit.

It’s no secret that workers in an open shop situation will find their union’s ability to represent them greatly weakened. In an open shop situation, management’s power to force decisions down the union’s throat is greatly strengthened as the bosses pit worker against worker, thus taking away the basic solidarity needed for effective representation.

Just like workers without a union contract, those in open shop situations may find they have little say about their work schedules, their time-off, their pay scales and their health insurance, not to mention fair treatment on the job and a whole host of things that matter most to them. Stories abound as more and more non-union employers tell workers to stay for a double-shift, to work without sufficient time off between shifts, to be cheated out of overtime, to “work off the clock” (a typical habit in the restaurant industry), to be given the most onerous jobs over and over while the boss’ girlfriend gets favored treatment, and to suffer other types of disrespect.

As the unions have weakened in the last 35 years, workers’ wages throughout the nation have stagnated while corporate profits and rewards to the wealthy have grown many times over. And if unions grow even weaker, there’s little hope of those trends ever reversing course. All workers will suffer, not merely those in unions.

The “freedom” promised to workers in this union shop prohibition law (the miss-tagged right-to-work law) is a myth. It only gives the bosses “freedom” to push workers around.  — Ken Germanson, Feb. 23, 2015

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