Michigan's Right to Work Law

Right to work is about freedom for workers: who doesn’t want freedom? Unions.

COLORADO SPRINGS, December 10, 2012 — The news from Michigan is that Governor Rick Snyder will sign a right to work bill, if the legislature sends one to him. The unions are planning massive demonstrations in Lansing on Tuesday. Two school districts in the metro Detroit area are closing because so many teachers are taking time off to protest. 

Taking on the role of Agitator in Chief, President Obama spoke today at Redford Township, Michigan ostensibly to drum up support for socking it to those making over $250,000 a year, now defined as “the wealthy”, but midway through the speech to UAW workers he attacked the right to work law.

The New York Times opined:

“The decline of the middle class in this country has paralleled that of the labor movement, which has been battered by the relentless efforts of business groups and Republicans to drive down wages, boost corporate profits and inflate executive salaries and bonuses. Now that campaign is on the verge of a devastating victory in Michigan, home of the labor movement….”

Madison, Wisconsin. It’s déjà vu all over again.

Right to work laws are exactly what the name implies: you have a right to work without first having to join a union and pay union dues. Freedom of association and equal opportunity: isn’t that what America is all about?

Not if you’re a unionist.

Labor unions represent just 11% of the workforce, and half of those are government workers. Teachers form the largest unions. Somehow, when I think of industrial sweatshops, I don’t think of classrooms.

Unless maybe we’re talking about the students.

In order to not become totally obsolete, unions have ensured that people are forced to join a union as a condition of employment; hence the need for right to work laws.

I had my first experience with unions as a teenager working minimum wage as a bagger and stocker in a grocery store in Wisconsin. Before the union, we all did stocking and bagging as needed. The more experienced guys taught the more junior guys how to do things. One day I found out the store had been unionized. No vote, no advance notice.

Now everyone was ranked according to seniority—not skill or experience or aptitude or attitude—and a line was drawn half-way down the list. Top half, Stockers; bottom half, Baggers. No more stocking cases of beer for me!

And for the privilege of being represented by the union I was to have my wages automatically hit for union dues. I quit.

Colorado is a free will state. That means that you can work for who you want to and you can quit at any time—you don’t have to give notice. Same is true for employers—you can be fired on the spot. Some school districts have union representation, some don’t. If you teach at a district with a union, you don’t have to join.

You also have the right to have the portion of your union dues that go to political purposes returned to you if you ask.

Michigan, on the other hand, is home to powerful auto worker unions—the unions Barack Obama gave Government Motors to. Passing a right to work law in Michigan is like plunging a stake in the heart of unionism. I don’t need to recite the high-paying jobs UAW workers have or their incredible benefits for you to understand what’s at stake from the union point of view.

But Detroit isn’t doing all that well. Michigan isn’t doing very well, despite Jeff Daniels commercials. They could use a bit more competition. They could use some of those auto plants that have been built throughout the south.

One of the problems with unions, though, is the same problem with Establishment Republican politicians: neither group wants to give up power in their own sphere, despite the fact that their reason for existence is long gone.

In the 1950s and 60s Michigan and Wisconsin were part of what was then called the Iron Belt—the industrial heartland of America. Those industries are long gone and the area has long been called the Rust Belt.

Historically, industrial jobs were called Blue Collar jobs and blue collar workers were working class. High-paying union jobs made blue collar workers into middle class families. This is what Joe Biden means by middle class when he says, “We’re going to rebuild the middle class.”

That’s not what middle class really means, however. Since we don’t really have a class system in America, middle class really means middle income, or the 50% percentile, which is somewhere around $50,000 per household per year.

If you ask Americans what class they’re in (lower, middle, upper), a whopping 89% say they’re middle class.

To say the definition is fluid is an understatement. Middle class are the entrepreneurial class: small business owners, independent contractors, white collar workers. Those are the kinds of jobs that post-industrial America offers.

Joe Biden can’t rebuild a union-wage middle class because those jobs don’t exist anymore. They’re Chinese jobs. They’re robot jobs.

First Wisconsin, then Indiana and now Michigan are passing right to work laws. Regiments from all three states fought together in the Civil War in the much-decorated Iron Brigade. The Union then secured freedom for plantation slaves.

Now these states are securing freedom for union slaves.


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Al Maurer

Al Maurer is a political scientist and founder of The Voice of Liberty. He writes on topics of limited government and individual rights.

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