Catching The Chimera: Right-To-Work In Michigan

Labor leaders have seen the writing on the wall for their movement for a while now. But that writing just got bolder and more ominous for them.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced in a stunning press conference today that he would sign legislation making Michigan the 24th right-to-work state as soon as he can, possibly this week. The Detroit Free Press reports:

During a news conference in the state’s Capitol, Snyder said the Legislature will proceed with right-to-work legislation for public and private employees – which would exclude police and firefighters – and that the bills could be introduced Thursday during the lame-duck session.

‘The goal isn’t to divide Michigan. It is to bring Michigan together,’ the governor said, as hundreds of union protesters stormed the Capitol and the governor’s office, voicing their opposition to the plan.

Previously, Snyder had kept right-to-work at a distance, seemingly hesitant to take on such a large fight deep inside union territory. So what changed his mind?

…one of the things [Snyder] looked at when deciding about backing right-to-work legislation is Michigan, was the neighboring state of Indiana where voters recently chose to make that a ‘freedom to choose’ state. The governor said since right-to-work rules were added in Indiana, economic activity has increased and business has grown.

It just goes to show how contagious — in the best possible sense — political courage can be: Earlier this year, Gov. Mitch Daniels did indeed sign legislation making Indiana the first Rust Belt state to adopt right-to work. Daniels was undoubtedly inspired by the success of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining reforms. And now, mirabile dictu, he has inspired Snyder.

(Also inspiring Snyder, surely, was the failure of unions this past November to convince voters to enshrine collective bargaining power in the state constitution with the so-called “Protect Our Jobs” amendment.)

Unions are reacting to Snyder’s announcement in typical fashion — within hours of the press conference, USA Today reported that union supporters tried to “rush the Senate floor” and had to be maced by police. And union allies are warning the governor that the battle is only beginning:

“I am adamantly opposed to this,’ said Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, who was on his way to Lansing to take part in a rally against the measure. ‘I think it’s a disaster for the state. I think it’s shortsighted and vindictive. The state is going to be in a civil war for the next year.”

Why are unions so opposed to right-to-work legislation? Simple: Right-to-work forbids unions from requiring payment of union dues as a condition of employment.

It’s about freedom, really, and the only reason labor leaders are opposed to it is because they know that when people have a choice, they will often opt out of union membership. Right-to-work threatens the monopoly on labor that unions have long required to maintain their political power. It’s a cruel calculus that goes something like this:

  1. Right-to-work = fewer union members;
  2. Fewer members = less money coming in as dues;
  3. Less money = less political clout;
  4. Less political clout = fewer government sanctioned privileges and perks.

If labor bosses really believed in the value they bring to the workplace, and the justness of their cause, they would not fear right-to-work, but would rather be confident that their services could attract new members by their own self-evident virtues without coercion. The fact that they fight the freedom to choose tells you not only that the service they provide is dubious at best, but that union bosses know it.