Ron Kaminkow


Nearly 60 million people say they would join a union today if they could. The problem? Union-busters, Big Business, and woefully outdated laws continue to undermine the right to collectively bargain. 

Just take “right-to-work” laws, for example. Across the country, anti-worker legislators are relentlessly fighting to pass right-to-work, which has a more than 70-year track record of lowering wages, reducing benefits, and making workplaces more dangerous. 

Right-to-work is a Jim Crow relic that was specifically designed to keep White and Black workers apart, playing on our worst fears to keep working people divided, poor and weak. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called it a false slogan, designed to rob us of our job rights and our civil rights. 

Here are the results: On average, workers in states with right-to-work laws make nearly $9,000 less per year than workers in states without these laws ($50,174 compared with $59,163). Nevada, unfortunately, is one of these states. And in right-to-work states, wage theft is commonplace.

A new study from the Unified Construction Industry Council found that in the construction industry alone in Nevada, an estimated 12,717 workers were either misclassified as independent contractors or engaged in cash-only, off-the-books work arrangements in 2018. According to the study, these unfair labor practices likely reduced the labor costs of offending contractors by over $90 million in Nevada in 2018 – and those costs are borne directly by workers and taxpayers. Imagine what the working men and women of our state could do with $90 million extra dollars per year flowing into our communities.

Ron Kaminkow is a locomotive engineer in Reno and the General Secretary of Railroad Workers United and VP of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen – Division #51 – photo: courtesy of Ron Kaminkow

Right-to-work doesn’t just increase worker misclassification – it also decreases overall wages and job quality. In 2019, 24 percent of jobs in right-to-work states were in low-wage occupations, compared to just 14.5 percent of jobs in other states. Here in Nevada, 30.3% of all workers earn less than $12 per hour. And when workers don’t have a voice on the job, their workplaces are more dangerous: the rate of workplace deaths is 37 percent higher in states with right-to-work laws. 

As a railroad worker, I am fortunate to work in a heavily unionized sector of the economy. Why? Because railroad workers are not regulated by the National Labor Relations Act (1935) which governs most private-sector workers, and which was amended a decade or so after its passage by the Taft-Hartley Act (1947) which provides for “right-to-work.” Instead, railroaders are regulated by the Railway Labor Act, legislation that pre-dates the NLRA by a decade (1926) and remains uncorrupted by the anti-union Taft-Hartley. As a result, railroad workers have maintained a high degree of union density among our ranks. Other workers should be allowed this opportunity as well, free from oppressive laws that makes union organizing and maintenance difficult.

Now we have a chance to put right to work where it belongs—in the trash bin of history, with the poll tax and separate but equal doctrine. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would strike a major victory for civil rights as our country demands racial and economic justice. 

The PRO Act was passed by the House last year but was blocked in the Senate. This year, we have another chance to make history. Our Senators have already gotten on board as cosponsors, standing for the rights and well-being of Nevada’s working people. It’s time to pass the PRO Act and end right to work for good. 

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