Michigan and Right to Work: Republicans go after unions

Some honest questions and answers about what RTW does to the middle class. Photo: Workers' silent protest of loss of wages outside Michigan's capitol AP

WASHINGTON, December 13, 2012 — Make no mistake about it, a Right to Work (RTW) state means less work for workers and is an anti-union move. Yet that is what has happened once again, this time in Michigan, the birthplace of one of the biggest and most powerful unions, the Auto Workers Union.

How is that possible you ask? Simple: a Republican legislature that knew they had lost seats in the last election and therefore could not squeeze the union-busting legislation through next year, passed it in a lame duck session when they knew they could. And they did so with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder — who had spoken against it last January — signing the bill and thus making Michigan the 24th so-called Right-to-Work state.

Even the Detroit Free Press that endorsed Gov. Rick Snyder whole-heartedly was outraged by the passage of the RTW bill and ran the headline: “A failure of leadership: Snyder’s about face on right to work betrays voters.”

Most of the RTW states are in the deep South, having passed such legislation back in the 1950s. But then along came Oklahoma and Indiana, ramming through RTW laws. And they usually affect, as they do in Michigan, private and public sector employees like teachers.

Pres. Obama with Michigan workers AP

When President Obama was in Michigan on Monday at the Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant, which announced plans for a $100 million investment to produce engines for heavy-duty trucks, and one expected to bring even more middle class jobs to the state, Obama said:

“I’ve just got to say this. What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions. We shouldn’t be doing that.

 “You know, these so-called right-to-work laws, they don’t have to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics,” Obama added to a cheering crowd. “What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”

The President has got that right. Let’s look at what being a Right to Work state really means. For starters to call it a Right to Work law is a misnomer. It is actually a Right to Not Work law since such laws cost jobs, drive down wages, and erode the middle class. Just look at Oklahoma that went RTW in 2001 and has experienced that first hand. Manufacturing employment and relocations into the state went into decline, the opposite of what was promised.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder AP

So let’s look at the facts:

1. Isn’t Right to Work about the right of workers to do just that, work?

Sorry, it’s not. It’s a catchy slogan, but RTW is really about employees not having to pay union dues or agency fees to be represented by the union when it bargains for higher wages, better health and pension benefits, and workplace safety.

Yet the worker who does not pay for the union representation will still receive all those benefits. By not contributing, the RTW workers save money while reaping all the benefits they didn’t pay for, but everyone else did. And remember, union members vote to accept or reject a contract that their union brings them.

2. How much are union dues?

They vary from union to union; for example SEIU/OPEU members set their own dues rate at 1.7% of their gross pay plus $2.75 a month.

3. Does RTW guarantee jobs for everyone who wants one?

Nope. It just sounds good, but in reality, jobs disappear and the middle class shrinks in those states.

4. What is the impact on unions not getting dues?

It weakens unions’ bargaining power if everyone is not on board even while enjoying the fruits of their negotiations. RTW makes it harder for unions to give the workers a voice on important company policies that affect them, from workers compensation to unemployment insurance.

5. How do wages compare between RTW states and non-RTW states?

Wages are on average are 3.2% lower in non-RTW states. “The average full-time, full-year worker in an RTW state makes about $1,500 less annually than a similar worker in a non-RTW state.” Plus workers in RTW states are more likely not to have health insurance.

Right to Work states in blue

And the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that rate of workplace deaths in RTW states is 52.9% higher.

The economies of the RTW states show that that they are lagging in economic development. The worst are Mississippi and West Virginia. But other struggling states include Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming. All but Kentucky are RTW states. Those stats speak volumes.

Add to the facts that a corporate survey revealed how companies make their decisions to move into another state, and being a RTW state is not even a consideration.

6. What is the impact of RTW on unions?

Unions then have to negotiate contracts to improve salaries and benefits for people who won’t pay their fair share to be represented, people who could never negotiate for an individual contract for the same quality of coverage.

And it means money out of the coffers of the unions, thus weakening them. That, my friends, was the whole point of the RTW bill. With unions weakened, companies can save zillion of dollars and unions don’t have clout at the bargaining table or during elections.

7. Don’t union dues go to support candidates?

Again, nope. Unions have PACs that their members can voluntarily contribute to, and those dues go to local, state and federal candidates. “Money collected for the purpose of political action must be kept by the union in a separate account and cannot be collected with or as part of member dues.”

These are the reasons why thousands of private and public sector workers thronged the Lansing State House demanding protection of their rights.

And this is why the fight is not over. While a Republican-controlled legislature made it impossible to put the bill up for a vote by referendum, that doesn’t mean come the next election, the Michigan governor and most of the people who voted to for the RTW law won’t find themselves out of a job.

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe

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