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Today in Labor History

Mar. 16, 1960
The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) is formed in New York to represent New York City public school teachers and, later, other education workers in the city.

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Politicians Face Political Risk in Fighting Unions
Posted On: Feb 08, 2012

The Detroit News

February 8, 2012 | Already this year, state lawmakers have opened brutal new fronts in the war on workers. And America's workers are fighting back as never before.

In Michigan, anti-worker bills aimed at weakening labor unions are gaining traction in the House. HB 5025, for example, would require employees' annual written authorization to have their union dues deducted from their paychecks.

Working families in Indiana, Florida and Arizona are under especially fierce attack. State politicians loyal to their Wall Street paymasters are trying to lower workers' wages, benefits and safety. They're trying to turn taxpayer assets over to for-profit corporations, along with fat contracts and tax giveaways, at the expense of government employees.

Gov. Mitch Daniels supported a law to make Indiana a right-to-work-for-less state, breaking a campaign promise that earned him labor's endorsement. Last week, he signed the law in secret and held no press conference to announce the deed. That's not what I'd call bold leadership.

Hoosiers will see falling wages, increased poverty and more dangerous workplaces — for now. They will also be engaged in one hell of a fight. Even during protests against the right-to-work-for-less bill, working people were registering voters inside the Capitol. The ballot box is where they'll punish lawmakers who voted against them.

It's happened before. Indiana lawmakers who voted for a right-to-work law in 1957 faced a stiff backlash. Many lost re-election. Eight years later, it was repealed. More recently, Ohio voters overwhelmingly fought back another blatant attack on working families.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott and some lawmakers want to turn many of the state's correctional facilities over to a private corporation with a poor track record of safety and savings. The proposal would save less than one-half of 1 percent of Florida's corrections budget — and that's if those savings actually materialized, which is doubtful. For that tiny savings, prison privatization would put 4,000 correctional officers out of work. Nearly all of them live in poor, rural counties where good jobs just don't exist.

Florida's working families are bringing the fight to Tallahassee. Correctional officers come almost daily to the Capitol to lobby against the bill, joined by hundreds of other workers, including nurses and teachers who fear they'll be next.

Radical politicians in Arizona are trying to ban collective bargaining. What's being proposed is worse than what Gov. Scott Walker rammed through in Wisconsin last year.

Lawmakers would make collective bargaining illegal for government bodies and employee groups. Automatic payroll deductions for union dues would be banned.

Gov. Jan Brewer also wants to strip civil-service protections from state employees. Arizona could soon become the next Wisconsin. The state's working families are making plans for protests, Capitol sit-ins and possibly a recall of Brewer.

Michigan politicians contemplating similar anti-union legislation should proceed at their own electoral peril. Michigan's working families are mobilizing right now and will certainly remember in November.

We may not win battles in every state this fall. It may take years, but in the end, I'm confident we'll win the war on workers.

Teamsters local 570
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