Unraveling What Happened in Michigan
Now that the dust has settled, there are still some loose ends that need to be addressed in the Wolverine State’s right-to-work battle.
Last Tuesday, Michigan became the nation’s 24th right-to-work state. Much has been written about this and yet there still is much misinformation in circulation – mostly being spread by the unions, of course. And President Obama, an outspoken union supporter, has uttered some mistruths (if unintentional) or lies (if they are not).
What does “right-to-work (RTW)” mean? It simply means that workers don’t have to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. Many have publicly lamented that collective bargaining in Michigan is going to be imperiled. President Obama jumped on that bandwagon saying,
What we shouldn’t be doing is try to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions. We don’t want a race to the bottom. Right-to-work laws have nothing to do with economics and they have everything to do with politics. They mean you have the right to work for less money.
No, Mr. Obama, Michigan’s new law – for better or worse – will not affect any union’s right to collectively bargain.
Another erroneous assertion – a long time mantra for organized labor – is that workers who choose not to join unions in RTW states are “freeloaders” or “free riders.” As Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk points out,
Unions object that right-to-work is actually “right-to-freeload.” The AFL-CIO argues “unions are forced by law to protect all workers, even those who don’t contribute financially toward the expenses incurred by providing those protections.” They contend they should not have to represent workers who do not pay their “fair share.”
It is a compelling argument, but untrue. The National Labor Relations Act does not mandate unions exclusively represent all employees, but permits them to electively do so. (Emphasis added.) Under the Act, unions can also negotiate “members-only” contracts that only cover dues-paying members. They do not have to represent other employees.
The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly on this point. As Justice William Brennan wrote in Retail Clerks v. Lion Dry Goods, the Act’s coverage “is not limited to labor organizations which are entitled to recognition as exclusive bargaining agents of employees … ‘Members only’ contracts have long been recognized.”
Even though, as Sherk says, unions don’t have to represent all employees, they do so voluntarily to eliminate any competition. So instead of “free rider,” a better term would be “forced rider.” Teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci explains,
The very first thing any new union wants is exclusivity. No other unions are allowed to negotiate on behalf of people in the bargaining unit. Unit members cannot hire their own agent, nor can they represent themselves. Making people pay for services they neither asked for nor want is a “privilege” we reserve for government, not for private organizations. Unions are freeloading on those additional dues.
…The “freeload” crack is especially ironic coming from MEA (Michigan Education Association), which ran an $11 million budget deficit in 2010-11 and is a cumulative $113 million in the red. In other words, the union has spent millions of dollars in dues it hasn’t collected yet, some of which will be paid by people who might not even be members yet. Who is freeloading?
In any event, it is undeniable that unions are taking it on the chin these days. In 2011, Wisconsin banned collective bargaining for some employees, and earlier this year Indiana became the 23rd RTW state. Michigan union leaders, well aware of the zeitgeist, tried to enshrine collective bargaining into the state constitution in November via Prop. 2. The amendment, however, was solidly defeated – 57 to 43 percent – even though the unions outspent the opposition by a 22:1 factor. (H/T John Seiler.)
What’s next for the unions in Michigan? Undoubtedly more thuggery and distortions, and then there is 2014. Last Tuesday, at a rally outside the building which houses Governor Rick Snyder’s office,
The main battle cry of the anti-right-to-work protesters…had a common theme: wait for 2014. Many of the GOP seats, including Snyder’s, will be up for grabs during the midterm elections. Rather than attempt to recall Republicans, as Wisconsin Democrats tried and failed to do to Gov. Scott Walker, the Michigan unions are set to mobilize behind Democrats and pro-union Republicans in two years.
But will the people of Michigan be taken in by the unions’ demagoguery? Organized labor is blaming their loss on everyone but themselves – the Koch Brothers, right wing legislators, the Tea Party et al. But as Kim Strassel in the Wall Street Journal points out,
The unions lost in Michigan—as they’ve lost elsewhere—because they and their White House compatriots have forced the issue, and in the process forced Americans to take a side. And what we’ve discovered is that when the choice is between more freedom for workers, more choice for parents and more tax dollars for vital services or, on the other side, more coercive powers for a special interest—well, that isn’t such a hard choice after all.
When all is said and done, it is instructive to examine why RTW is a good thing. First, despite Mr. Obama’s insistence to the contrary, RTW laws do indeed have a great deal to do with economics: they are beneficial.
According to the West Michigan Policy Forum, of the 10 states with the highest rate of personal income growth, eight have right-to-work laws. Those numbers are driving a net migration from forced union states: Between 2000 and 2010, five million people moved to right-to-work states from compulsory union states.
Other policies (such as no income tax) play a role in such migration, so economist Richard Vedder tried to sort out the variables. In the 2010 Cato Journal, he wrote that “without exception” he found “a statistically significant positive relationship” between right to work and net migration.
Mr. Vedder also found a 23% higher rate of per capita income growth in right-to-work states. An analysis by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance finds that Michigan is now the 35th state in overall prosperity measured by per capita income. Had Michigan adopted a right-to-work law in 1977, the group estimates, per capita income for a family of four would have been $13,556 higher by 2008. (Emphasis added.)
And secondly, RTW is a fairness issue for the worker.
… the best case for right to work is moral: the right of an individual to choose. Union chiefs want to coerce workers to join and pay dues that they then funnel to politicians who protect union power. Right to work breaks this cycle of government-aided monopoly union power for the larger economic good.
The question that unionistas can’t seem to come to grips with is this: if the unions are so beneficial, why must they force workers to sign on? The reality is that, given a choice, many workers will just say “no” and the unions will lose money and influence, their real raison d’être. And for the refuseniks, it is an uncoerced step on the road to freedom.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.