February 21, 2013
Michigan’s Right-To-Work Law and a Perspective from Management and Labor
Organized labor in Michigan took a devastating blow in December of 2012, with Republican lawmakers rushing a bill through the Senate and House that would have the state join the ranks of those considered to be “right-to-work” states. Those who are unfamiliar with unions and the “right to work” laws being passed in states across the nation may not realize that it is such a volatile topic or what sort of impact the law could have on their economy or jobs. The reality to those who are union members is that they are now paying dues for their co-workers to benefit from the collective bargaining benefits their union provides, even if those co-workers choose not to join the union or pay dues. Unions call these people “free-riders”. Michigan law would mean that employees no longer are required to pay union dues in order to take advantage of collective bargaining efforts. Prior to this bill being passed, employees were required to pay union dues as a condition of employment at an employer where unions were already present. According to Eichler (2012b), Michigan residents were extremely divided and heated about the bill potentially being passed prior to Governor Snyder even signing it. Both sides of the argument were clear in their opposition and/or support for the bill as well as their opinions about what the law meant for the future of Michigan. Eichler (2012b) also reported that “supporters of the bill say it would attract new employers to Michigan, but labor advocates say it would strike a blow to union finances, hurt the ability of employees to negotiate, and allow workers to skip paying dues while still enjoying the benefits of a unionized workplace.”
While unions have long been supporters of the Democratic Party and vice-verse, it is worth noting that the Republican having Senate and House rushed to have this law passed within a matter of days. Flesher and Karoub (2012) reported that while other states such as Indiana have drawn these types of legislative acts out over several weeks, Michigan’s leaders indicated their plans and pushed them through the Senate within hours, and the law was passed through the house after the legally required waiting period of five days. The governor of Michigan, Republican Rick Snyder, has been quoted as saying that the right to work law will now allow Michigan’s workers to be “free” and that it will “contribute to our state’s economic comeback while preserving the roles of unions and collective bargaining” (Flesher & Karoub, 2012). Adversaries of the new law have different views in that while the law may create more jobs, but the jobs being created will be at a much lower wage and include far less, if any, benefits.
Residents of the state are extremely divided in their opinions of the law. Two different school teachers offered their opinions on the law, one calling it a “sad day in Michigan history”, and another stating “We don't only bargain for us, but for smaller class sizes, curricular issues, and working conditions” (Flesher & Karoub 2012; Eischler, 2012b). President Barack Obama also provided his opinion on the matter saying that “so-called 'right-to-work' laws [...] don't have to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics," and that "what they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money” (Eichler, 2012b). Those who were in favor of the law threw around topics such as bringing in more jobs, opening up the state to more employers, and keeping the current population in residence. According to Eichler (2012a), “most added that they expect a healthier job market will soon follow.”
What is really clear to the public is the law which was rudely shoved through the necessary political maze with little regard to what the opposing (and seemingly majority) side had to