Last week I attended a labor issues conference presented by the Northern Virginia Labor Federation. We heard general presentations on labor issues and short discussions about specific problems faced by workers in different economic sectors.
Labor policy in Virginia is broken. Republican legislators, using American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) templates, pass laws that attack worker rights and block legislation that would improve workmen’s compensation programs. It’s time to fix this.
Firefighters and other emergency responders come in contact with hazardous materials every day in the course of risking their lives to manage fires, crashes, and other emergency situations. These heroes get cancer at higher rates than the general population, and exposure to these chemicals is the cause. Yet in many cases they must prove a specific case of exposure before they can collect disability and health care coverage.
More generally, we need to end right-to-work laws, brought to us by ALEC and its corporate funders (especially the Koch brothers), and Senators like Ryan McDougle – an ALEC member. These laws amount to an attack on unions that give employers an advantage when hiring. This is why worker productivity has risen since the 1970s but wages have remained stagnant.
It’s time to allow workers in every sector of the economy – public and private – to bargain with employers for higher pay, safe conditions, improved worker’s compensation plans, more vacation, and better benefits. No business or government agency can function without workers, and they need to have a voice through a union if they wish.
If you like weekends, thank the labor movement. If you think Virginia needs middle-class jobs that don’t require a college degree, only unions can deliver. In fact, Virginia unions run apprenticeship programs – on their own dime and without government help – that provide a path to stable employment at good wages to young people in the Commonwealth who want to learn a trade.
I know how important unions are to the workers in Virginia who build our homes and office buildings, stock shelves in grocery stores, make sure our cell phones work, and teach our kids how to read. I support them without reservation.