As has been widely reported, President Trump is working on renegotiating NAFTA to get a better deal for the United States. I was somewhat shocked to see that he picked up some support in this effort from an unlikely source… Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. In an op-ed for CNN, Warren actually came out in favor of some aspects of the new round of negotiations, claiming that she was supportive of not forcing Americans, “to compete with poorly paid workers from Mexico or elsewhere.” She went on to demand that employers who wish to compete with us, “lift wages, benefits, and health and safety standards for their foreign workers.”
But all of that fit into the first paragraph of the essay. Keep in mind that this is Elizabeth Warren we’re talking about. After that brief introduction she immediately launches into a lecture on how Canada has something to teach us. She claims that Canada doesn’t want its workers competing with poorly-treated laborers — including workers in the United States. And what is Canada really upset about, at least according to Warren? Right to work laws.
I’m glad we’re renegotiating NAFTA because it has been a raw deal for American workers. But the Canadians are giving America a wake-up call. As negotiations continue, the United States should take a close look at how our own broken labor policies are hurting American workers — and fix them.
The Canadians focused on so-called “right-to-work” laws, the state regulations that make union dues optional even when unions bargain and represent all the workers. These state laws are a powerful weapon in the war against working people. Twenty-eight states have passed these laws, whose main purpose is to make it harder for workers to have the resources they need to stand up for themselves. Because of these laws starving unions of resources, union leaders face an uphill battle when they try to help workers join together to advocate for higher wages and benefits.
It goes on like that for several more paragraphs, singing the praises of unions and talking about how horrible right to work laws are. Without strong unions, Warren argues, workers won’t be able to obtain higher wages, pensions and other benefits. This, of course, ignores the fact that those “sweet” union deals in many states wound up driving the employers out of business or at least out of the state, so none of the workers wound up with any wages or benefits beyond an unemployment check.
Right to work states allow employers to keep their costs competitive so they can stay in business and continue providing jobs. But they also offer workers the opportunity to have a job and not have part of their paycheck withheld every week only to be donated to support a political party and slate of candidates that the worker may not approve of.
So I assume Warren is saying that Canada doesn’t have these problems, right? Well, to a certain extent she’s correct. You don’t see the same battles over the minimum wage, union dues and corrupt political influence peddling in the Great White North. Or at least not to anywhere near the extent we experience in the United States. But there are a couple of reasons for that which Warren somehow avoids mentioning.
First of all, the average wage and minimum wage in Canada have been essentially unchanged for 40 years and are on par with or slightly behind wages in the U.S. This is not some union advocate’s vision of Nirvana. Second, and probably far more importantly, Canadian labor unions are not allowed to donate money to political campaigns. They therefore have to spend it on their workers. They aren’t burdened with a system where all of the workers’ dues are being flushed into corrupt political practices so the money can actually go toward the needs of the workers. Their unions actually still maintain strike funds so workers who go on strike can continue to bring in some income thanks to the unions. That’s virtually unknown in the U.S. these days since pretty much all the dues money goes into the Democratic Party’s coffers or covers the salaries of rock star level labor union leaders’ salaries.
Before we start emulating Canada in anything it’s worthwhile to look at what they’ve got and ask whether it’s working or not. (The same can be said for their vaunted healthcare system.) I’m not shocked that Elizabeth Warren is a big fan of Canada, but we certainly don’t want to rush into accepting her ideas here. Right to work laws are saving and creating jobs while weakening the corrupting influence of the unions on American politics