Working people in Michigan lost a major battle this week as the State Legislature and Governor passed a new “Right to Work” (RTW) law. The term “Right to Work” is deliberately misleading as RTW laws have nothing to do with the right of an individual to seek or gain employment. Rather, RTW laws prohibit labor unions and employers from negotiating union security clauses, which are the rules that control how a union can collect dues. Essentially what the law is designed to prevent unions from collecting the dues/fees to cover the cost of the representation they are required by law to provide to all members of any given bargaining unit. In short the laws requires unions to give away free representation to anyone who doesn’t want to pay for it. Let’s call it what it is: a freeloader law.
The Right to Work Foundation makes an attractive sounding argument, stating that right to work laws make a state more economically competitive and will ultimately lead to job growth. There is no evidence to back that up. In fact just the opposite, these laws in the long term will be detrimental to Michigan’s workers and ultimately the broader economy. The benefits of union presence in a state extend into the non-union workforces as well. Often, employers raise wages and providing better benefits to compete for the best workers in state’s with higher union density. It’s no coincidence that 17 of the states with the lowest medium household incomes in the country are RTW states.* 2011 American Community Survey, US Census Bureau
What is not in dispute is that these freeloader laws are designed/intended to break the unions by slowly bleeding them dry, weakening the labor movement as a whole. No business would be able to function if they were constantly required to give away free goods and services. As unions are required by law to provide representation to all members of a bargaining unit, whether they are a union member or not, Michigan’s unions will now be forced to provide union rights to complete freeloaders while at the same time trying to maintain the other activities that lead to strong contracts.
A few short years ago such a loss would have been unthinkable. Michigan has a long history of a strong labor movement; it’s the home of the auto industry and United Auto Workers union, which together lifted millions of American workers out of poverty. Michigan previously had pro-worker governors, which changed with the election of Governor Snyder in 2010.
The Hartford Courant published an article last week entitled “The Right-To-Work battle inches closer to Connecticut”, detailing the similarities between Connecticut and Michigan, which include union density, CT approximately at 17.7% and Michigan at 18.3%. The biggest difference of course is the makeup of Connecticut’s legislatures. Here in Connecticut, CSEA and SEIU have fought hard to elect pro-worker legislators. Thanks to our efforts in the 2012 election we have maintained that pro worker majority legislature. Michigan fought hard too, but election wins are never guaranteed. A battle over these freeloader laws, or even the basic union right to collectively bargain really could happen in Connecticut if the political landscape changes. The reality is we are always one bad election result away from losing everything we have worked fork, and that should give every union member in Connecticut pause.