Interview With Senator Nina Turner: Right-To-Work Laws Are Weakening The Middle Class And The Economy
During her time in the Ohio Senate, Turner fought for legislation that would level the playing field for women and men—including introducing the “Viagra bill,” which would subject men to the same scrupulous levels of regulations women face over their reproductive choices—and her dedication has continued into her postlegislative role.
The Canton plant first opened in 2003, and Mississippi residents hoped it would be a boon to their local economy. Though Nissan says the factory has added $2.9 billion each year to the state’s economy, and created 25,000 jobs, the state still remains the poorest in the nation, and workers have spent nearly a decade and a half fighting for better conditions and fairer treatment. The Japanese automaker is currently facing fines at several of its U.S. plants for safety violations—including the one in Canton—and workers say the company has tried to hinder their attempts to join the United Automobile Workers union (it doesn’t help that Mississippi is a right-to-work state, meaning the law gives workers the option not to join a union, or allows them not to pay union dues if they do). And because 80 percent of the plant’s employees are African American, protesters argue that not only is it a fairness and safety issue—the plant’s difficult relationship with its workers is a civil rights one.
“I’ve had a long history with the UAW, particularly in my home state of Ohio,” Turner recently told Glamour. “In places like Ohio [and 27 other states, including Mississippi], these antiworker’s rights bills were filed back in 2011. It was a really big deal in Ohio and motivated me to cement my relationship—or ’street cred,’ if you will—with the labor community in my stance to protect their right to collectively bargain.”
Glamour: There is a trend now in dissuading people from unionizing, and more right-to-work policies, like those in Ohio and Wisconsin, are being passed at the state level. What do you think this implicates for workers across the country?
NT: It’s a dangerous trend. Workers' wages are not keeping up with inflation. Their wages are not on pace with the amount of work that they do. We work harder and longer in this country, and still people’s wages are not keeping up with that. Labor unions have a long history of benefitting all workers, even those who are not members of unions, because everyone's wages go up. If we don’t increase membership—and membership in labor unions is going down because of the attacks against organized labor—it’s something every single American, whether they’re officially in a union or not, should be concerned about. It’s a spiral. It’s a weakening of the middle class, and our economy can’t sustain that.
For the workers and their families, being able to bring home a living wage helps their families and, by extension, helps our economy. Seventy percent of our economy is consumer-based. We know that when lower- and middle-class families have money and disposable income, they spend it. That puts money back into the economy. It’s a win-win for everybody: not just for the individual, not just production at a specific company (like Nissan), but for the greater good. I look at what’s happening at plants like Nissan and what is happening across the country at the hands of some of my Republican sisters and brothers, and it becomes a moral question. Are we the type of country that will make progress and move forward, or are we going to go backward—and take middle- and working-class families with us? The one percent and the 10 percent are doing just fine, but the people who are bearing the brunt of this economy are the ones who suffer.
Glamour: For women who are in these kinds of jobs, there is also the added factor of covering child care. What kind of effect do these working conditions have on them?
NT: If a mother or a caregiver does not have a job that pays a living wage and they cannot afford child care, that is unacceptable. I’ve talked to my constituents over the years, and child care can almost bankrupt a family, even a two-parent household in which both parents are working. That keeps a parent from being at ease, and it really stifles the social and economic growth of a family. Women are hit hard across the board, but particularly in homes where the mother is the head of the household and the only wage earner. It hurts her, and it hurts her children. I’m always amazed to hear my more conservative colleagues talking about how they care about life. They’re pro-life, but when it comes down to safe work environments that allow for unions, being able to pay for child care, having family leave—they don’t care about any of that. That’s where I argue that they’re not pro-life; they’re pro-birth.
Glamour: There's a lot of grassroots activism happening across the country. Do you see a connection between these actions, Saturday’s Nissan rally, and what you and Senator Sanders are doing with Our Revolution?
NT: I absolutely do. People are awake. That hashtag #staywoke is real, and I hope it continues. My hope for this country and the activists is that they never, ever go back to sleep, and they keep fighting for social justice, equality, and decency. It reminds me a lot of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. Being a progressive himself, he was talking about the fact that we should provide jobs for everyone who wants one. People do have a right to live in decent housing. They do have a right to education. FDR was preaching this gospel in the thirties, and Dr. Martin Luther King did the same thing in the 1960s with the Poor People’s March on Washington. Folks in this country have these rights, and it’s the job of this country to answer this call. We need groups like the Women’s March reminding elected officials that they have a responsibility to create pathways of opportunity, and if—and when—they aren’t doing that, everyday people are going to put a little “extra” on their ordinary and extraordinary things will happen. At this moment the not-so-quiet voices rumbling across the country and the world are saying we absolutely and unequivocally deserve better.
Another point I want to make is that it’s important for women to understand that it’s bad enough that we don’t make dollar-for-dollar what men do, but when you distill that down to women of color, our Latinas and our African American women, it’s even less than that 78 cents. When you have mega-corporations that have record profits, but they don’t want to share even a little bit of that with their workers, we are actually putting our communities at peril. What happens to women happens to the entire nation. People work hard. But when you’re working long hours, you don’t get to spend time with your kids, you don’t get a chance to take a vacation every now and then, you don’t get a chance to make a big purchase (which helps the economy). There’s something wrong with that. This isn’t about wages; this about quality of life. If workers are overworked, or—like at this Nissan plant—companies hire temps at low wages, this fundamentally comes down to the quality of life for a person. It’s bigger than wages. They should be able to spend time with their families. And if they’re single, they should be able to have fun and not spend every day of their life working 12 to 15 hours a day and never get a chance to take care of their well-being. To me, that’s part of living a good life.
Glamour: On Wednesday, March 8, activists and feminist leaders are calling for women to go on strike to protest the current administration and years of policy that have kept women from being equal members of society. Will you be participating in any demonstrations?
NT: You know, I’m not sure. I can’t say definitively if I will be there physically, but I will definitely be there in spirit. I’m glad to see people coming together like this, and we have to keep this unity going. What happens to one directly happens to all indirectly. It may be Nissan workers today, but it could be somebody else somewhere else tomorrow. We have an obligation to each other to not only push our politicians but to push companies to do right by their workers. They wouldn’t even have successful companies without their workers. They are the glue that keeps things together. How, in the twenty-first century, we have mega-corporations that have lost sight of that boggles my mind.
This interview has been condensed and originally appeared on Glamour.