By Lianna Novitz
If your union just negotiated a 15% wage increase, wouldn't that justify the payment of monthly union dues?
Labor 411 certainly thinks so, and Cristal Java agrees. Java, a 15-year union rep, is putting her beliefs into practice via the Right to Work is Wrong Calculator that she created.
Java recalls meeting with a working parent who was both a friend of her son’s and a member of her Local. Their discussion turned to right-to-work laws adopted by several states and under consideration by the federal government.
When Java explained that right-to-work laws make union membership fees voluntary, the mother’s eyes widened. Without union dues to pay, the woman calculated that she would have an extra $60 a month to put food on the table for her children.
“In that moment, I lost her, and if we don’t have her, we’re really screwed,” Java recalls. “I wanted to talk really concretely how much [right-to-work laws] can hurt her.”
Inspired, Java decided to show union members at large that right-to-work led to losses, not gains. With a design in mind and a need to crunch numbers, Java reached out to labor researcher Stephanie Rosenfeld Kurek, current lead developer on the calculator.
Through the tool, a person inputs his age, hourly wage, years of service, and expected age at retirement. Factoring in real worker experience and contract and actuarial data, the calculator shows how much money a person would lose during the course of her career if she lived and worked in Wisconsin.
The model is based on a legal analysis of the regulations affecting collective bargaining. Kurek describes the tool as “ten mortgage calculators put in a blender.”
Some unions are currently developing the Calculator as a web app. The Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE), and AFSCME Council 28, have already licensed the calculator for their union organizing toolbox. WFSE Director of Field Services Megan Parke showcased the calculator in a presentation at the Fighting Right to Work Summit recently held in Los Angeles. AFSCME Council 28 represents more than 40,000 members in Washington state public colleges, agencies, universities, and public service sectors.
Wisconsin’s 2011 Right-To-Work Act 10 laws certainly left a mark on unions. The Act 10 law gives employees the choice of paying union fees. And according to Java, the number of Wisconsin union members has plummeted from 70,000 to 7,000 in just the last couple years.
Java and Kurek believe that the by using the calculator, unions can show how the cost of membership is minimal compared to the lost political power and bargaining strength with the changing labor laws.
“My biggest wish is that union organizers that need it can get access to it,” Java says.
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