U.S. Representative Donald Norcross (D-NJ)

The Right to Work Respect

By U.S. Representative Donald Norcross (D-NJ)

I joined the IBEW as an electrician’s apprentice in 1979, and spent the following decades wiring buildings, lighting bridges, and fighting for the rights of my fellow workers. I felt the dignity of working with my hands, and I saw the benefits of union membership. Hard work provided me with the pay and benefits to support a growing family and the opportunity to help others do the same.

As a business agent, I fought for fair contracts, safe workplaces and higher wages. As the president of the Southern New Jersey AFL-CIO Labor Council for seventeen years, I forged relationships with businesses and governments to create jobs and put my union brothers and sisters to work. And now, as the only electrician in Congress, I’m fighting to defend Davis-Bacon, create jobs, and defeat a national “right-to-work” law.

As Americans, we are guaranteed the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness — and we already have the right to work. When corporate billionaires push “right to work,” what they’re really saying is that the right to work is all we have, regardless of the pay or the conditions. They’re saying we have the right to work for less, in less safe conditions, with less secure retirements. They’re saying we’re on our own – and they’re wrong.

So-called “right-to-work” states rank among those with the lowest union membership, and as this egregious law spreads across the country, union membership nationally steadily declines. Workers in right-to-work states make an average of about $1,500 less a year, they pay more for health insurance coverage, and they have less secure retirement benefits.

The consequences of this corporate union busting have been devastating for all workers. Despite these clear facts, 28 states have passed phony “right-to-work” laws to limit unionizing — including two new states just this year.

They’re selling a fake bill of goods to working-class Americans who have real frustrations and fears. Unfair trade agreements and greedy corporate boards have outsourced their jobs and slashed their wages to the point they’re desperate for change at any cost – even giving up their rights.

With more than half the country having passed these anti-worker laws, union members now stand at a pivotal crossroad. We can submit to corporate interests or recommit to fighting for our rights.

When they claim to be fighting for the “right to work,” we must point out how low their bar is. The dignity of a job is critical, but it doesn’t amount to much if you can’t feed your family and provide for their future. We’re not just fighting for the right to work – America’s unions are fighting for the right to respect.

The sense of respect that comes from having a career that gets you ahead, that leaves you and your family better off, that makes you proud to go to work. Anyone can run in a hamster wheel, and too many of us have fallen behind. What we need is a fair deal that gets American families ahead in life.

I’m inspired by the workers who joined together to kill a “right-to-work” bill in New Hampshire. We must follow their lead and unite in solidarity to defeat these corporate anti-worker bills at every level of government. We must redouble our efforts and communicate our core values to all workers.

President Trump promised to fight for American workers – and now we must hold him and every elected official accountable to their promises. Write the president, call your representatives, demand action from your state’s leaders, and march in the streets if that’s what it takes.

Tell them: we have the right to work; we want the right to respect. ■