On December 11, Michigan became the country's 24th state to enact a Right-to-Work law. The birthplace of the UAW and traditionally the seat of the country’s organized labor movement became the second state to pass Right-to-Work legislation in 2012 when it joined Indiana — also located in the heavily unionized Midwest — which passed a Right-to-Work law on Feb. 1, 2012. Before then, the most recent Right-to-Work law was enacted in 2001 by Oklahoma lawmakers. Currently, similar legislation has been introduced in 12 other states.
Right-to-Work laws prohibit workers from being forced to contribute mandatory dues to labor unions in order to gain employment, regardless of whether or not they are members of a union, and prohibit employers from firing workers if they don't join a union. With workers no longer obligated to pay union dues, union membership, revenue, and strength decline. Proponents argue that these laws attract businesses to states and strengthen economic development, whereas detractors say Right-to-Work legislation creates lower wages, resulting in a weaker middle class and higher poverty rates.
With massive budget deficits and high unemployment numbers, states are desperate to find ways to turn around their economies. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but predictably, there was no shortage of debate between union workers and supporters and proponents of “open shop” free labor.
The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), a national association that advances and defends the principles of the merit shop, commended Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers. “The Michigan legislature stood up for the hardworking women and men of our state,” said Chris Fisher, president of ABC of Michigan. “Workers will now have the right to freely choose whether or not to affiliate with a labor union. Empowering Michigan workers with this basic choice is a tremendous step forward on behalf of equity and fairness in the workplace.”
As a result of the legislation, Michigan may experience new businesses moving into the state, bringing with them more jobs, according to Eric Regelin, ABC’s 2012 national chairman and president of Granix, LLC, Ellicott City, Md. “Hopefully more lawmakers — strapped with massive budget deficits, falling revenues, and stagnant economic growth — will consider a Right-to-Work law to help turn their economies around.”
In opposition to the new Right-to-Work law, the IBEW denounced the Michigan lawmakers’ move. “Contrary to the claims of right-to-work boosters, there is no evidence that weakening unions will make Michigan more competitive or create jobs,” said Ed Hill, president of IBEW, who cites that Right-to-Work laws drive down wages for all workers — union or not — by an average of $1,500 a year. In addition, 28% more workers go without health insurance in Right-to-Work states than in ones that have not enacted that legislation.
“Michigan voters made clear last November that they wanted their elected officials to focus on building the middle class from the bottom up, working together to find solutions to getting the economy back on track,” said Hill. “[Gov.] Snyder chose to ignore the voters’ will. He joins the ranks of Walker, Scott, and Kasich in pursuing policies that increase the power of the very wealthy, silence the voices of working families and promote an economic race to the bottom — a race where the only winners will be Wall Street and outsourcing CEOs.”