Cedar Rapids Workers and Professors Talk Iowa's Right-to-Work Law

By Jillian Petrus, Reporter

Protesters sit in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation passed last week. Michigan could become the 24th state with a right-to-work law next week. Rules required a five-day wait before the House and Senate vote on each other's bills; lawmakers are scheduled to reconvene Tuesday and Gov. Snyder has pledged to sign the bills into law. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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By Jay Knoll

LANSING, Michigan - Late Tuesday afternoon, Michigan became the 24th right to work state in the country.

Right to work states, like Iowa and now Michigan, prevent non-union employees from having to pay union dues. Supporters say the law honors workers' freedom of association and protects them from contributing to political causes they disagree with. Opponents say the law divides workers and deprives unions of the dues they need to bargain effectively.

More than 12,000 union workers and supporters protested the legislation at the capitol in Lansing today. Police arrested three people and used pepper spray on others two separate times.

Michigan's Republican led House approved both private and public sector versions of the bill, and Governor Rick Snyder quickly signed them into law.

Iowa's had Right to work status for 65-years, but that doesn't mean the law isn't controversial in the Hawkeye state.

"You can't join an association and have all the benefits of that association without paying dues," said Shelley Parbs, President of the Hawkeye Labor Council. "I don't think it should be different for unions."

A trend toward right to work is spreading across the midwest with Michigan -what some might call the birthplace of the union- now following suit.

"From the union perspective, this sort of flies in the face of everything they stand for," explained University of Iowa Political Science Professor, Timothy Hagle. "You see that symbolic effect of a Right to work state in the home of the union."

So what's driving the change? Hagle says the unions historically strong political affiliations with the democratic party could be one factor followed closely by the economy.

"When you have a business that's struggling, unions fight for additional wages and benefits for their workers," Hagle said, "but that adds to the cost for the business who then passes that on to the customer with higher prices... sometimes they can't pass on the cost, and they go out of business."

Still, there is no hard proof that Right to work drastically improves or hinders a state's economy. Supporters argue it makes the state more attractive to businesses.

Others say it just forces the unions to pay for employees not interested in paying the union back.

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