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GHEI: Right to work in the heartland

Michigan sets aside its Big Labor heritage

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The unthinkable has happened. Michigan, home of the powerful United Auto Workers union, has become the 24th right-to-work state. Legislation to make this happen cleared the statehouse Tuesday and was greeted in a matter of hours with the enthusiastic signature of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. With Michigan residents hit by one of the nation's worst unemployment rates at 9.1 percent, something had to be done.

Despite the furious outcry from Big Labor bosses, dumping compulsory unionizing is exactly the right move. The new law won't limit the formation of a union, nor does it bar anyone from joining a union or engaging in collective bargaining. All it does is prevent unions from forcing workers to pay dues to Big Labor as a condition of employment.

Under the previous way of doing things, unions had the option of creating a closed shop in which only dues-paying members could work. They could also force nonmembers to pay "agency fees" which are supposed to represent the share of dues the organization uses for collective bargaining, administration and grievances, usually amounting to about 85 to 90 percent of full membership dues. Big Labor takes this money and uses a significant chunk of it to fund political campaigns and activism on behalf of pro-union Democrats. Workers should never be compelled to choose between a paycheck to put food on the table and funding the political speech of candidates with whom they may strongly disagree.

That's probably why, even in Michigan, the vast majority of private-sector employees are nonunionized. A mere 10 percent or so belong to a union, as opposed to the public sector where 55 percent of government employees are unionized. These "public servants" poured more than $24 million into an effort to stymie right-to-work legislation with an amendment to the state constitution. Voters resoundingly rejected the idea in November by 58 percent to 42 percent. As an added dig at the unions, Michigan lawmakers included a $1 million appropriation in the new statute blocking Big Labor from creating a ballot campaign to repeal the popular measure.

Right-to-work is a growing movement because it makes states an attractive proposition for businesses and investors alike. Michigan in particular needs a renewal of investment since its economy has been shrinking for over a decade. Reducing the cost of labor will entice entrepreneurs to give the Great Lakes State a second chance.

Unionized employees often focus on the higher payments they sometimes receive by threatening to go on strike. These extra benefits come at a cost to the state as a whole. As the price of labor goes up, there will necessarily be fewer jobs to go around. The employees who get left out are usually the most vulnerable -- outsiders without skills and connections. Right-to-work laws will make it easier for these individuals to walk away from the unemployment lines and have a shot at learning the skills they need to live the American dream.

Nita Ghei is a contributing Opinion writer for The Washington Times.


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