Big Labor’s Choice: Improve And Evolve, or Perish

Over the past year, the Midwest has had a pro-worker epiphany, a movement now reaching its crescendo with the imminent passage of right-to-work legislation in Michigan, which would end mandatory union dues as condition of employment in an historical union stronghold.

Unfortunately, accompanying the wave of workplace freedom has been a tsunami of union intimidation and impolitic tactics… and Michigan will be no different. The announcement of introducing right-to-work legislation on December 6 immediately prompted union protests at the state capitol building in Lansing. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy reports:

UAW members in neon green vests patrolled crowds inside and outside the state Capitol here, but it didn’t stop violence and vandalism.

“No, we don’t want anyone fighting,” a union member in a green vest shouted to a group of angry protestors approaching a small group of right-to-work supporters gathered on the steps of the Capitol. “Everyone stay cool.”

His plea went unanswered as about eight men wearing hats and coats with the logos of the UAW, Sheet Metal workers, Steelworkers, and other unions, pushed onto a platform on the stairs and shoved people back about three feet. The surge lasted for a few minutes and was one of a couple of such pushes that occured on Thursday.

The protests do not have an end in sight. Over the weekend, United Auto Workers President Bob King told hundreds of members, “They’ve awakened a sleeping giant.” The union, along with allies, will conduct protests all this week in an attempt to half Michigan’s adoption of a right-to-work law.

These actions hark back to the protests and tactics conducted by unions against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10, which reformed government collective bargaining privileges. The legislation’s ultimate passage galvanized the pro-worker Midwest movement. Act 10 withstood everything Big Labor could muster, ultimately became law, and created $1 billion in government savings. This inspired other elected officials in union-dominated states to enact worker freedom legislation, and in short time similar pro-worker reforms spread to Ohio (unfortunately squashed by referendum) and Indiana became the 23rd right-to-work state.

Yet Michigan lawmakers have learned from their counterparts’ brutal experiences from introducing labor reform that diminishes union power. They knew destructive protests, government employee walkouts, referendums, recalls, Democrat elected officials fleeing the state, and litigation would await them for enacting right-to-work legislation.

In anticipation of a barrage of litigation and referendum challenges awaiting the bill, proponents of Michigan’s right-to-work bill took a few important precautions in the drafting stage. As Forbes’ Micheline Maynard explains:

The lawmakers are using two key tactics to make sure they are successful. First, they are expected to attach the Right to Work provisions to a “vehicle bill,” or one that has already begun the legislative process. That will eliminate the waiting period that a stand alone measure would have required. Second, they are attaching appropriations to the bill, meaning that a new law could not be repealed by taxpayers, although it could be reversed by a future legislature. The bill is expected to apply to public and private sector unions, although police and firefighters will be exempt from its provisions.

If the Midwest pro-worker wave has taught us anything, it is unions will use any means necessary to obtain what they want. Former Service Employees International Union leader Andy Stern‘s statement on union strategy is revealing, “We’re trying to use the power of persuasion. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll use the persuasion of power.” Without more states passing labor reform promoting worker choice, unions will continue to use their powers of coercion to the public’s detriment.

Only the powerful can persuade with power. Right-to-work will erode that power—union bosses and their allies may be forced to become more persuasive, or, God forbid, better serve their members.