Written by Arnold Ahlert
Yesterday, in a move many considered impossible in a state characterized as the “cradle” of America’s organized labor movement, Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state in the nation. Gov. Rick Snyder signed two bills, one dealing with private sector workers and the other with government employees, hours after the state House passed both measures. Leading up to the historic moment, the reaction of the pro-union crowd, numbering around 10,000 by late afternoon, was predictably thuggish. The mob destroyed an Americans For Prosperity tent on the lawn of the Michigan State Capitol. An invective-filled diatribe followed by a vicious assault on Fox News contributor and conservative comedian Steven Crowder was captured on camera. 26,000 children missed school because their teachers called in sick, or took a vacation day, to join the protests. Police in riot gear clashed with angry demonstrators, even as some union members shouted “traitors” at the officers. Two arrests were made. Even a legislator, Democrat Douglas Geiss, behaved like a mobster. “There will be blood,” he threatened as he stood on the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives.
Unions and their supporters may be furious, but they have no one but themselves to blame. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder explained. “I asked [the unions] not to go forward,” Snyder said. “And the reason I said is, ‘You’re going to start a very divisive discussion. It’ll be about collective bargaining first, but it’ll create a big stir about right-to-work in addition to collective bargaining.’” Snyder is referring to an effort by unions to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state’s constitution during the last election. Such a move would have completely insulated unions from any attempt by the legislature, barring a constitutional amendment, to enact a right-to-work law. Proposition 2, as it was dubbed, failed spectacularly, with 58 percent of the voters rejecting the measure in the same state Barack Obama won handily on November 6.
Before that effort took place, Snyder had asked the legislature to hold back on a right-to-work measure because “it would be a divisive issue, and it’s not something we should debate,” said Representative Jase Bolger, speaker of the Michigan House. Bolger and his fellow lawmakers initially honored the governor’s request. Snyder was apparently also prepared to deal with the frustration illuminated by Detroit Free Press columnist Tom Walsh, who contended the Governor was upset by union opposition to stricter emergency manager laws that would enable swifter action to rescue cities and school districts that had bungled their way to the brink of insolvency. Walsh cited Detroit as an example. The city is on the verge of bankruptcy, due in large part to union intransigence. Yet all of it might have remained status quo–until Big Labor decided to go for the kill.
Greg McNeilly, who runs Michigan Freedom Fund, a political action committee in favor of right-to-work legislation, noted the connection between the defeat of Proposition 2, and a GOP-controlled legislature emboldened by that defeat. “[UAW president] Bob King put this on the agenda,” McNeilly contended. “He threatened this state. He tried to bully and intimidate the state with this disastrous proposal that was so bad a majority of his members didn’t even back it. The whole state had a conversation. They lost,” he added.
In an interview, King blamed the defeat on the Koch brothers and multimillionaire conservative activist Dick DeVos, describing them as wealthy benefactors who “bullied and bought their way to get this legislation in Michigan.”
Hardly. Despite being a state where 17.5 percent of workers are still unionized, compared to a nationwide average of 11.8 percent, several polls taken in the state over the last few years reveal an electorate decidedly in favor of a law that guarantees no one can be forced to join a union, or pay union dues or a fee to cover costs associated with union bargaining, as a condition of employment.
Furthermore, the electorate may have noticed what occurred in the neighboring state of Indiana, when it became a right-to-work state last February: the state moved up 18 rankings to 5th place on the Pollina Corp.’s Top Pro-Business States List, attracting 90 new companies willing to do business there. Michigan, by contrast, is ranked 35th in overall prosperity as measured by per capita income, has the nation’s sixth highest state jobless rate at 9.1 percent, and has had one of the lowest rates of personal income growth from 1977-2011. An analysis by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance reveals that if Michigan had adopted right-to-work laws in 1977, per capita income for a family of four would have been $13,556 higher by 2008.
None of it matters to the unionists and their supporters, who converged on Lansing in an attempt to intimidate lawmakers. Even Democrats in the Michigan Congressional delegation, who met privately with Snyder on Monday, attempted to intimidate the Governor, promising him years of “discord and division” if he signed the bill. And just as they attempted to do in Wisconsin, labor leaders are talking about staging recall elections for Republican legislators and Gov. Snyder. They are inspired by what occurred last year in Ohio, where Democrat activists successfully overturned a measure to curb collective bargaining. In Michigan however, spending bills cannot be overturned via referendum. Since an appropriation measure was added to the bill, a referendum to overturn it becomes impossible.
On Monday, President Obama weighed in on the legislation. ”What we shouldn’t be doing is try to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions,” he said. “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,” Obama added. “They mean you have the right to work for less money.”
No one is taking away anyone’s right to collectively bargain. This law simply curbs the power of union bosses to extract dues from those workers who don’t wish to pay them. But the president is correct when he says there is political aspect to this legislation. Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, illuminates the obvious connection. “President Obama was the recipient of literally hundreds of millions of dollars from union officials,” he says. “If union officials can’t compel union workers to pay dues as a condition of their employment, the fees that they use for political activity would dry up very quickly.”
As well they should. Nothing illustrates this better than an “education” video produced by the California Teachers’ union that depicts “the rich” urinating on “the poor.” It is exactly this kind of over-the-top propaganda that is underwritten by union dues–even as the individual teachers’ political beliefs are rendered totally irrelevant in the process. And make no mistake: it is the loss of union leaders’ power to shape a political agenda, underwritten by the coercion of mandatory dues, that scares those leaders the most.
When Wisconsin did away with mandatory dues, 6,000 out of 17,000 members of the American Federation of Teachers–Wisconsin left its ranks. More than 30,000 out of 68,218 members also opted out of that Wisconsin’s chapter of AFSCME, the union that represents state, county, and municipal workers. In other words, when union “solidarity” becomes voluntary, it becomes far less solid.
Michigan joins 23 other states that prize individual freedom and genuine economic prosperity for struggling workers. Absolutely nothing is preventing unions from making their case to workers in Michigan. In reality, it now becomes necessary for them to do so, in order to keep as many dues-paying members as possible. Nonetheless, UAW president Bob King characterized the passages of the right-to-work laws as a “deep disappointment.” ”Symbolically, it’s a huge setback,” he said in an interview. “Practically, maybe no. Maybe it will awaken a sleeping giant.” That’s exactly what happened on election day, when the “sleeping giant” known as the public was awakened by union arrogance and overreach. That overreach led directly to the passage of right-to-work legislation.