Kentucky Republicans assault unions and wages in first act of the year

Bryce Covert

Bryce Covert Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

Last year, Republican Matt Bevin won the governorship of Kentucky, taking over from Democrat Steve Beshear. Then, in November, Republicans took full control of the state legislature after they gained their first majority in Kentucky’s state house in almost a century.

And the very first things the Republican majority did with its power this past weekend were to pass a so-called “right-to-work” law, which will likely weaken unions’ finances, and repeal a prevailing wage law that ensures government contractors pay decently.

Kentucky was the last of the Southern states that hadn’t gone right-to-work, but after Bevin signed the bill on Saturday, it now joins the rest — becoming the 27th state in the country to pass such a law.

Right-to-work laws create what critics call a free rider problem. Normally, all workers in a unionized workplace must pay dues to the union given that it’s bargaining on their behalf. But right-to-work laws allow people to opt out of dues, even if they’re still being represented, which means they can benefit from union negotiations over wages and working conditions but don’t have to give any money to support these efforts.

This dynamic can hollow out unions’ finances, since they still have to do the same work but potentially with less money. Those in non-right-to-work states are more than twice as likely to be in a union or protected by a union contract.

By weakening union power, research has found that right-to-work laws have negative impacts on all workers. These laws end up reducing wages — pay is about 3 percent lower in right-to-work states compared to those without such laws, which comes to around $1,500 less a year for a typical worker. They also lower the likelihood of receiving employer benefits like health insurance or a pension.

Kentucky’s new law also bans public employees from going on strike, a key labor right enjoyed by all other workers.

The legislature also passed a rollback of the state’s prevailing wage law this weekend, and Bevin has said he will sign it. These laws are intended to keep government contractors on from undercutting wages to offer cheaper bids. A lack of prevailing wage laws can lead to a race to the bottom as contractors seek to underbid each other. And while proponents say that getting rid of the laws keeps government costs low, research has not found that to be the case.

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Reposted from ThinkProgress.

Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media. Follow her on Twitter @brycecovert

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

The Big Drip

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

A rash of water main breaks in West Berkeley, Calif., and neighboring cities last month flooded streets and left at least 300 residents without water. Routine pressure adjustments in response to water demand likely caused more than a dozen pipes, some made of clay and more than 100 years old, to rupture.

West Berkeley’s brittle mains are not unique. Decades of neglect left aging pipes susceptible to breaks in communities across the U.S., wasting two trillion gallons of treated water each year as these systems near collapse.

Comprehensive upgrades to the nation’s crumbling water systems would stanch the flow and ensure all Americans have reliable access to clean water.

Nationwide, water main breaks increased 27 percent between 2012 and 2018, according to a Utah State University study.  

These breaks not only lead to service disruptions  but also flood out roads, topple trees and cause illness when drinking water becomes contaminated with bacteria.

The American Water Works Association estimated it will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years to upgrade and expand water infrastructure.

Some local water utilities raised their rates to pay for system improvements, but that just hurts poor consumers who can’t pay the higher bills.

And while Congress allocates money for loans that utilities can use to fix portions of their deteriorating systems, that’s merely a drop in the bucket—a fraction of what agencies need for lasting improvements.

America can no longer afford a piecemeal approach to a systemic nationwide crisis. A major, sustained federal commitment to fixing aging pipes and treatment plants would create millions of construction-related jobs while ensuring all Americans have safe, affordable drinking water.

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