Oklahomans lost “Right to Work/Scab” Fight 9/25/01
On their side: All the media, all the politicians, all the money. On
Our side, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and hundreds of volunteers!
We lost the "Right to Work" campaign in Oklahoma on September 25, 54-46%.
Various activists told me that Oklahoma's employers have been trying to get "Right to Work" legislation for years. It failed in 1964 by only 2% in an election that contained several other state questions. There have been legislative attempts just about every time the legislature met. North Texans often go to rallies at the State Capitol to stop the legislation. But this year, a Democratic legislator proposed putting it out on the ballot. He is from the same district where UAW 1999 (one of the larger Oklahoma locals and by far the largest UAW local) is located.
As the fight developed, I heard horror stories about active and former union members who were participating in the campaign against us by calling radio stations and writing (or sponsoring) letters to editors. I had a friend on the Dallas Central Labor Council who was active in organizing the fight in Oklahoma for his union. My CLC friend told me that seniors were voting against us. Others told me that the teachers “professional organizations” had been a particular problem. One activist told me of a high-school teacher who was taking her entire class into the Chamber of Commerce's “Vote Yes” phone banking during the last days of the campaign!
Activists told me, and newspaper articles verified, that the initiative seemed destined to win when it was first filed. Estimates told me were around the 65-35% range. One newspaper said 70-30%. But union activists told me that they had narrowed the gap steadily until, by election day, the estimated loss was within the margin of error of the poll.
My own participation was minimal. In mid-summer, I began running articles about the coming fight in Oklahoma in our local union paper. I also began talking about it at meetings of the local and of the CLC. In the final month, our CLC sent a donation.
I discussed the strategy with our CLC member. He told me that SQ#695 would be on the ballot by itself. Most Oklahomans wouldn't care about it one way or the other; consequently, the AFL-CIO expected a very low turnout in an election that could be won easily just by focusing on turning out our union members. Approximately 7% of the workers in Texas were organized, he told me.
Several times, in the course of the campaign, I went back to that fundamental assumption. It didn't seem right to me for a union to be hoping for a low voter turnout. It didn't seem right to ignore the possibilities for union-building that could occur in a public campaign. I argued for an "external" campaign. I often noted that the Alliance for Retired Americans, if it had been activated in this state of retired people, would have turned the corner for the union campaign.
As it turned out, there were 3 campaigns: palm-pilot door-to-door, internal, and external. The external campaign spent about $5M, according to newspaper accounts. But their TV, radio, and mail ads were peculiar in that they never mentioned unions, and they never explained "right to work." They thumped on the idea that states “with laws like SQ#695” had lower wages and insurance benefits than other states. Their ads seemed to say that Oklahomans would see an immediate cut if SQ#695 were to pass. People complained that the ads were deceitful. The real facts were presented in leaflets targeting union members.
On the other side of the battle, full use was made of the deceptive "right to work" phrase. When they tried to argue at all, the bad guys argued that businesses would refuse to come to the state because there was no anti-union law. They actually said that "Right to Work" would bring in businesses and, through competition for workers, wages would go up! This crazy logic was the only argument actually presented, but, like Goebbel’s “Big Lie,” it was presented over and over and over.
Some people told me that the two advertising campaigns tended to cancel one another out, and that voters still wouldn't know what to do. Our ads were credited with blunting the other ads, but nobody seemed to think our ads were convincing people. Unions had no way at all of countering the numerous editorials, columns, and public endorsements from political figures.
The September 11 tragedies and the big drop in America's economic outlook afterward both drove Oklahomans to the polls. If the turnout had been light, as the union tacticians expected, we would have won easily. But turnout was over 37%, when it had been predicted to be around 10%!
I encouraged a group of UAW Civil Rights Activists from my local and one other to go up to help. Three from my local went up to help UAW Local 1999. A few from the other UAW local also went, but I didn't. On the following Saturday, September 22, I was able to go with a delegation consisting of 4 student activists, 2 SEIU activists, and a state representative to go to Ardmore, Oklahoma for a day of precinct walking. We all enjoyed it.
I then proceeded to Ada, Oklahoma, to stay with my Mom. A friend called me there and came down for the night. On Sunday, I went with him to his regular work in the state capital. We walked precincts from noon until 6 PM, and I got to meet a lot of the volunteers and full-timers. Then I returned to Ada. On Monday I went to the Steelworkers' hall and was assigned a plant gate. After I did that, I took about 75 names on a call-up list back to my Mom's and called from there. Tuesday morning I went back to the same plant gate at 6:30AM. At 11AM, I attended a short meeting and lunch with the 2 staffers and 3 volunteers active there.
I then set out for Dallas, but decided to make one more effort. I wore my "Vote No" T-shirt on a 3-mile walk through Durant, Oklahoma, and talked to everybody I could. Then I returned home to send out my story(s) and pictures. That night, I found out that we had lost.
The public campaign:
Here is a summary of my clippings:
Ada Evening News editorial by Lone Beasley, 9/23/01 "Vote yes Tuesday on SQ 695 for the good of Oklahoma." Contains the gist of all their illogical arguments: "When new companies set up shop in a state competing for workers who are in relatively short supply - Presto! Wages go up. Benefits increase."
Daily Oklahoman brief 9/23/01, "Right to work slips in fund raising." Says opponents had just moved ahead of proponents in the SQ695 fight. We spent $4.9M and they spent $4.3 M according to reports on file with the state Ethics Commission. At the end of the campaign, newspersons estimated $10M total spent.
Daily Oklahoman front page editorial on 9/23 "Whom do you trust?" lists Demo and Repub politicians who support SQ695 and says that all the money from the "vote no" campaign is from labor organizations out of state. "In all, about 99 % of the contributions to the ‘No’ effort have come from labor unions."
Daily Oklahoman article on front page by John Griener "Voters to decide right-to-work fate on Tuesday." Says "Right to work would prohibit requiring an employee to pay dues or a bargaining service fee to a union as a condition of employment."
Two page centerfold advertising spread "Who Are You Going to Trust?" on one side lists about 200 unions from out of state who contributed to "Vote No." On the other page is a list of Chambers of commerce, a list of employers' organizations and the Oklahoma Christian Coalition, and in the middle are 7 political figures. I think two are ostensibly Democrats. It's 2-color red& black. The Ada Evening News had an identical spread without the color. I suspect that the ad ran in every daily in the state, and I doubt that they paid full price.
On the other side of the two-page spread is the main editorial page. Lead editorial is "Don't be Confused. SQ 695 is About Freedom for Workers.”
An op-ed from Patrick B McGuigan presents religious sounding arguments against SQ695.
Under "Your Views" there are 3 op-eds: "Freedom improves unions" urges a "yes" vote. "Were not demons urges a "no" vote. "Good for Teachers" urges a "yes" vote by Ginger Tinney, Executive Director of the Association of Professional Oklahoma Educators.
"Your Views" letters continue on the next page. There are 10 more letters supporting "yes" votes; none supporting "no."
Ada Evening News 9/19 "Letters to the Editor" contains one excellent argument by Ed Allred of Ada. Another promotes "yes" vote by Congressman Wes Watkins. Watkins was lately considered the main Democrat in the state. Both letters were very professional.
"No vote" mailings: "Don't cut benefits. Over 112,000 Oklahomans would lose health care coverage if 695 passes"
"695 Just isn't worth the risk to Oklahoma Families" (health benefit cuts)
"With Right to Work, More Jobs, Higher Pay" with comments from 2 leading Republicans and 1 Democrat."
Door Hanger "Vote Against Cutting Health Care benefits and Lowe wages" This is what I hanged in Ardmore, OKC, and Ada.
"Drive Right-to-Work out of Oklahoma Early!" leaflet used to urge union members to vote early.
"Since when does the word 'ban' mean more freedom?" vote no
"Rumor travels faster, but it doesn't stay put as long as truth." Oklahoman and humorist, Will Rogers. This one has facts showing that Oklahoma's manufacturing output grew faster than the national average and that Wages are higher than in Arkansas and Texas. ($13.17)
"You will find some people saying they are for so-called 'right-to-work' law, but they also believe in unions. This is absurd - it's like saying you are for motherhood but against children!" Harry S Truman
"Vote no on right to work" Stop this attack on union rights!" I think this was the final leaflet and was used at plant gates. Contains good facts.
"Question 695 is confusing, poorly written.. And it will cost Oklahoma Taxpayers Millions in Lawsuits!" 2-page slick color leaflet arguing that the ballot initiative will be challenged by unions if it passes. Contains the actual wording of the ballot and an opinion by a former judge that it "could cause serious problems." Here is the wording on the ballot:
September 25, 2001
STATE QUESTION 695 LEGISLATIVE REFERENDUM 322
The measure adds a new section to the State Constitution. It adds
Section 1A to Article 23. The measure defines the term "labor
organization." "Labor organization" includes unions. That term
also includes committees that represent employees.
The measure bans new employment contracts that impose certain
requirements to get or keep a job. The measure bans contracts that
require joining or quitting a labor organization to get or keep a
job. The measure bans contracts that require remaining in a labor
organization to get or keep a job. The measure bans contracts that
require the payment of dues to labor organizations to get or keep a
job. The measure bans contracts that require other payments to
labor organizations to get or keep a job. Employees would have to
approve deductions from wages paid to labor organizations. The
measure bans contracts that require labor organization approval of
an employee to get or keep a job.
The measure bans other employment contract requirements. Violation
of this section is a misdemeanor.
SHALL THE PROPOSAL BE APPROVED? For the proposal -- YES
Against the proposal -- NO
While In Oklahoma, I got to watch one of the several TV debates. On the "yes" side was political consultant Larry Stein. I think he was head of the committee for "yes." On our side was "Vote No Committee" head Pat Hall. Both were introduced as political consultants. Hall had been former head of State Demo Party and was once president of the Oklahoma State Employees Union, I think. Here are some of their arguments:
Hall's "vote no" arguments:
What we're talking about is freedom
What we're talking about is lower wages
SQ695 will cost 100,000 their health care benefits
"Rt to Work" is 15th or 17th on companies' list when looking for new sites
Governor Keating was unable to name a single company that did not
come to Oklahoma because of this business condition.
Poor education is the cause that business won't come to state
Both sides are spending more on this campaign than on any in history
Keating and the Chamber of Commerce (s) are for it
People refuse to vote because they don't understand
Why take a chance? Constitutional amendment very hard to reverse
SQ695 will lower wages & benefits. Firefighters, police & nurses are on our side
Stein's "vote yes" arguments:
Oklahoma population falling, already lost a congressional seat
Business won't come. No hi-tech businesses moving in.
Oklahoma is already nearly dead last in personal income
Less than 7% of workforce is organized in Oklahoma
State can't compete with Texas
Texas growing like gangbusters
Governor Keating is for it
Your ads are deceitful
Rt to work "Puts out the welcome mat for business."
It's worth a try
Keating predicts 650,000 voters and victory
SQ695 will create higher paying jobs
It was kind of incredible to see that Stein actually claimed that Oklahoma would raise wages by lowering them, but that's basically what he said! He also used "personal income" statistics instead of "wages." Hall didn't challenge him on that! Hall came across as the most forthright and confident. But he was clearly limited by not being able to say "unions" or explain what "Right to Work/Scab" really is. His implied claim of 100,000 people's health care benefits disappearing immediately did not sound true.
The two guys were entirely too nice to each other. They even both laughed when Hall was talking about the high cost of the campaign and saying that it benefited nobody except people who sell ads "and us political consultants."
I wrote two articles, one for a win and one for a loss:
Union-Busters Defeated in Oklahoma
Oklahoma's battle over State Question 695, the so-called "Right to Work" initiative, won more than the narrow working people's <<<...........>>>>> percent victory at the polls on September
By blunting the right-wing initiative, Oklahoma voters dealt a set-back to similar efforts to put "Right to Work" laws into effect in the four states where right-wingers had already begun electoral and/or legal processes to impose new union busting laws. Further, President Bush's well-known program for a national "Right to Work" law will take its well-deserved place in the ashbin of history.
"But wait, there's more!" The list of Sooner State accomplishments in the battle goes on like the famous Gingseng Knife TV commercial, like the indefatigable Everyready Bunny, and like the other old jewelry commercial about "The gift that keeps on giving."
The hard work that unions and their allies put into the battle
delivered a statistic that is the envy of the entire labor movement: over
85% of Oklahoma unionists are now registered to vote. Compare that to
the estimated 50% nationwide that was estimated in the 2000 presidential race!
Labor in Oklahoma will weigh into future electoral struggles like a sumo
In 1907, when Oklahomans were writing their first state constitution and
before the oil companies took over, the state had the most progressive laws in
the South. "Omnia Vincit Labor," "Labor Conquers All," was made the state slogan, there was no Jim Crow, women's and children's rights were considered, and the American Federation of Labor claimed to have initiated 70% of the language in the constitution!
In their eagerness to implement the union-busting SQ#695, business interests
attempted to set back the progressive traditions of Oklahoma. However, they only succeeded in clarifying their own anti-worker ambitions and role in the ongoing class struggle. For a good example, consider the expensive two-page spreads that they put into Oklahoma newspapers on Sunday, September 23, two days before the election. One page listed some of the contributors to the "Vote No"
campaign: 205 labor locals and labor organization from other states. The
"Vote yes" side listed 58 local Chambers of Commerce, 28 employer's organizations, 30 capitalist newspapers, and seven political "leaders." The
heading is ungrammatical but effective: "Who Are You Going to Trust? Faceless
Out-Of-State Strangers, Or Your Oklahoma Neighbors?" Oklahoma families who
happen to live next door to one of the millionaire politicians shown or who
work directly for one of the other capitalist endorsers might have been
convinced to vote "yes," but everybody else was given an invaluable lesson in
class struggle and "which side are you on?"
Oklahomans learned more about who to trust from the unanimous chorus of "Vote
Yes" editorials in Oklahoma newspapers. A typical example was published on
September 23 in the //ital// Ada Evening News. Editor Beasley presented the
same circuitous reasoning that the bosses' side presented throughout the
campaign: "If Oklahoma adopts 'Right to Work,' the lower wages will attract
more companies. The companies will make more money and, thus, be able to pay
higher wages!" Beasley even adds the magic word "Presto!" as he drives home
his insane conclusion.
Even the simplest Oklahoman, after being subjected to the "Vote Yes"
advertising campaign, could ask, "Yes, rich companies are able to raise wages,
but why would they? They only came here for low wages to begin with!"
Unions spent considerable financial and human resources in the fight. On September 23, the newspapers reported that labor's side had reported spending $4.9 million. They bought TV ads and did mailings that pointed out the big
differences between "Right to Work (for less)" states and those who haven't
incorporated union busting into their laws.
On the "Vote Yes" union-busting side, $4.3 million in expenditures were reported, but commercial interests do not have to conform to the rigid reporting laws that the government requires of labor organizations. And the list of "Vote Yes" expenditures does not count the tremendous amount of free publicity that big corporations command. For example, take a look at the September 23, edition of the state's largest newspaper, the //ital// Sunday Oklahoman: It has a front page "Vote Yes" editorial, another lead editorial, a long "Vote Yes"
editorial from a person claiming a religious point of view, and an "unbiased" "selection" of nine letters to the editor with eight urgent "Yes" appeals and one "No." Headings for the "Yes" letters include, "Support Freedom," "Another Yes Vote," "Politics of Fear," "Union Nepotism," and "Union Cowards!"
Unionists say that the owner of the state's largest paper, E.K. Gaylord, is also the biggest contributor to the "Right to Work/Scab" campaign. The second largest contributor is the Wall family of Wal-Mart's anti-labor notoriety. The Walls made their first billions in "Right to Work/Cheat" Arkansas, and have
worked to spread the anti-union gospel ever since.
The best news from Oklahoma may be the story of labor's mobilization for this nationally crucial battle. Unionists from all over the state and from surrounding states poured into organizing centers. They quickly had to re-order the kinds of election paraphernalia that working people can use such as yard
signs and bumper stickers. Door-to-door teams and phone banks were set up in the big cities and the little towns. When Oklahoma workers left their jobs, there were "Vote No" teams standing at the gates!
In Oklahoma in September, organized labor showed its ability and
commitment; the working people of Oklahoma got the message.
//I'm sending another article based on losing the election//
Workers Set Back in Oklahoma
When the votes were counted in Oklahoma on September 25, working people had taken yet another setback blamed on the terrorists who burned the World Trade Center. Prior to the attack on
September 11, an inspiring, labor-led, campaign in Oklahoma had almost defeated State Question 695, the so-called "Right to Work" initiative. Labor's first polls had indicated a 65-35
percent loss to the "Right to Work For Less" forces, but the hard work of hundreds of volunteers had brought the race to a dead heat. After the tragedies, however, Republican Governor Frank Keating taped a flag-waving television ad urging Oklahomans to go to
the polls and vote, with him, for the "Right to Work/Scab" amendment.
All American working people are now bracing for more anti-labor laws. Four states had already initiated "Right to Work/Scab" efforts, and President Bush has consistently advocated a
national anti-union law.
Not all the news from the Oklahoma fight is bad. The hard work that unions and their allies put into the battle delivered a statistic that is the envy of the entire labor movement: over
85% of Oklahoma unionists are now registered to vote. Compare that to the estimated 50% nationwide that was estimated in the 2000 presidential race! Labor in Oklahoma will weigh into future electoral struggles like a sumo wrestler!
In 1907, when Oklahomans were writing their first state constitution and before the oil companies took over, the state had the most progressive laws in the South. "Omnia Vincit Labor," "Labor Conquers All," was made the state slogan, there was no Jim Crow, women's and
children's rights were considered, and the American Federation of Labor claimed to have
initiated 70% of the language in the constitution!
In winning implementation of the new union-busting amendment, business interests dealt another setback to the progressive traditions of Oklahoma, but not without costs. Oklahomans also
received an invaluable lesson in class struggle and "which side are you on?". The "Vote Yes" campaign was led by the state's best known millionaires and their organizations such as the
Chamber of Commerce. The Christian Coalition added its name to the endorsers. Major employers such as the Wall Family of "Right to Work" Arkansas were big contributors.
Oklahomans learned that they could not believe the commercial media because it is led by the state's largest newspaper, whose owner was the largest contributor to the "Right to Work/Scab"
campaign and whose presentation of the issues was openly biased. The Sunday paper two days before the election, for example, carried a lot more than the two-page center spread advertisement for "Right to Work/Cheat." It also carried a front page editorial, another
lead editorial, a long "Vote Yes" column from a person claiming a religious point of view, and a "selection" of nine letters to the editor with eight urgent "Yes" appeals and one "No."
Headings for the "Yes" letters included, "Support Freedom," "Another Yes Vote," "Politics of Fear," "Union Nepotism," and "Union Cowards!"
The best news from Oklahoma may be the story of labor's mobilization for this nationally crucial battle. Unionists from all over the state and from surrounding states poured into
organizing centers. They quickly had to re-order the kinds of election paraphernalia that working people can use such as yard signs and bumper stickers. Door-to-door teams and phone banks were set up in the big cities and the little towns. When Oklahoma workers left their jobs, there were "Vote No" teams standing at the gates!
In Oklahoma in September, organized labor showed its ability and commitment; many of the working people of Oklahoma got the message.
When I went into the Steelworkers Hall outside Ada on the afternoon of 9/23, an older man was just leaving. The woman in charge thanked him for his repeated volunteering. He asked her, quite sincerely, “I get off at 11:35 tonight. If I don’t have to work overtime, I could come back?”
Harvey Gray is his name. I started to think at that moment, “If we have volunteers like this on our side, we might win yet!”
The union campaign was based on several assumptions:
1. Most Oklahomans don't know about the issue and don't care.
2. Most Oklahomans tend to vote "no" if they vote at all on state questions
3. Given low turnout, the AFL-CIO can win by energizing their members
They began in July with their own polls showing 65-35% against them. Their very commendable expenditures of people and money were a credit to the union movement. The response from the rest of the labor movement was inspiring! But it was a little questionable to begin with for working people's organizations to hope for low voter turnout. Because of their assumptions, the union avoided explaining the real issues and even using the word "union." Because of their assumptions, the union movement realized very few gains that might have been possible with this kind of an effort: new organizing opportunities, new electoral allies, and new organizations and coalitions. A good example of a great benefit that might have been possible would have been organizing the Alliance for Retired Americans among the many older Oklahomans. Just about the only big benefit that the AFL-CIO did realize from their campaign was the remarkable level of voter registration among union members - over 85%!
Criticisms aside, we would probably have won had it not been for the September 11 tragedies and the dramatic economic downturn afterward. Voter turnout was more than 37% instead of the 10% anticipated earlier!
The truth was indeed “the first victim of war!”