Why Michigan May Become a Right-to-Work State

The defeat of Proposal 2 in Michigan might have unleashed forces that the unions can't hold back.

Unions went for broke in Michigan and they lost big time. But the question now is that will this defeat open the right-to-work floodgates?

Michigan voters soundly defeated Prop 2—a.k.a. the Protect Our Jobs initiative—a constitutional amendment that would have given public-sector unions a potent tool to challenge any law—past, present, or future—limiting their benefits and powers. It would also have permanently barred Michigan from becoming a right-to-work state where payment of dues is no longer required as a condition of employment in unionized companies.

Although both sides raised a whopping $20-plus million for their campaigns, ultimately the proposal lost by a wide margin because of opposition across the political spectrum. Both the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, the state’s flagship conservative and liberal papers respectively, counseled a “no” vote. The Free Press, usually an ardent supporter of collective-bargaining rights, concluded: “Michigan just can’t afford those kinds of limitations in an era when debt from pension and health obligations to current and retired employees are pushing many local governments to the brink of insolvency.”

All of this would have rung the death knell for the last two years of fiscal reforms by Gov. Rick Snyder, a moderate Republican, paving the way for future tax increases on individuals and businesses. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy estimated that the proposal would cost state taxpayers $1.6 billion annually as it gutted recent laws requiring public employees to pick up 20 percent of their health care costs and school employees to move to a defined contribution pension program, among other things.

This would have been economically devastating for Michigan, which went into a recession several years before the rest of the country—and is only now beginning to post a slow recovery. Its unemployment is still about a point above the national average.

The unions may wish they had never overplayed their hand in this battle, which they lost even though President Obama carried the state handily, thanks to a high turnout of his base. They were field-testing a strategy to take back existing right-to-work states that allow legislative action through ballot referendums.

If anything, however, they hurt their cause. Ever since Indiana became the first right-to-work state in the Rust Belt earlier this year—and 23rd in the country—Gov. Snyder has been under tremendous pressure from his party to push a right-to-work law in Michigan as well. Snyder resisted because he wanted to concentrate on tax and regulatory changes and avoid a distracting fight with unions.

But conservative lawmakers are already interpreting the resounding defeat for the ballot proposition as essentially a mandate for a right-to-work law in the state and are calling for one before the end of the year—not an impossible feat since they managed to hang on to their control of the legislature and the Supreme Court. Moreover, unions are in a weakened state after their defeats in Indiana and the Scott Walker recall battle in Wisconsin. "It should be sooner rather than later," Senate Finance Committee chairman Jack Brandenburg of Harrison Township insists. "Proposal 2 was defeated badly and we've been very patient with the unions. I think we have the votes to get it done."

Snyder is still clinging to his old position that he would sign such a bill if it comes to his desk but won’t push it. Now, however, there is a chance that Republican lawmakers might actually test him, especially since the economic case for such a law is just as compelling as the political moment is propitious.

A highly regarded 1998 study by Thomas Holmes of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis found that manufacturing employment as a percentage of county population increased by a third in right-to-work counties compared to bordering non-right-to-work ones.

What’s more, high labor costs and an inflexible workforce are the biggest obstacle deterring manufacturers from setting up shop in Michigan, depressing employment. If Michigan had been a right-to-work state, according to research by economist Hari Singh of Grand Valley State University, the auto industry, for example, would have seen a 25 percent gain in jobs since 1965. Instead, it lost 56.6 percent just from 2002 to 2009, shrinking its work force by 165,777.

Even before the collective-bargaining measure, polls showed that 50 to 60 percent of Michigan residents supported a right-to-work law. That number will no doubt be even higher now. If Michigan, a union stronghold, goes that route, it will become difficult for non-right-to-work states to resist and remain competitive.

Unions might yet rue the day they forced their hand in Michigan.

A version of this column originally appeared in Bloomberg View.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The mass exodus from Detroit has many unfortunate consequences for the unions.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Is Detroit still in Michigan?

    Then no.

  • ||

    "Rue the day", Shikha? Who says "rue"?)))

  • ||

    Forsooth good sir, know ye not that her fair face doth conceal a fairer tongue, whose eloquence doth charm the very falcon from his prey, so that from his frightful stance he becometh unto like the gentle nightingale whose song toucheth the heart of the sternest libertarian who ever sold his own child into slavery

  • Almanian_||

    BREAD GOOOOOOOD!

  • ||

    I must say, your response to the poetic elegance displayed by IFH really underscores the simplicity of that mythical kingdom known wistfully as "Almania".

  • ||

    Almania - lish malenkaya chast velikoi rossiyskoy imperii!

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Have you tasted their bread?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • ||

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    That's the Royal Anthem.

    A common mistake.

  • ||

    He stinks like a bum, but it's hard to take a shower when you can't wake up!

  • Longtorso||

    "Rue the day", Shikha? Who says "rue"?)))

    Rue McClanahan

  • Ted S.||

    Technically, I don't think she says it any longer. :-(

  • SugarFree||

    "This is Jesus, Groovus. Stop touching yourself."

  • ||

    C'mon Jesus, give Groovus a break. A masturbating Maximus is a happy Maximus, no?

  • Lord Humungus||

    this is getting weird.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Tell me something. Is IFH by any chance adopted?

  • Almanian_||

    You know who else supported "right to work"....

  • ||

    Icky racists in redneck states down there in the deep south?!

  • Whiterun Guard||

    UPS drivers?

  • Lord Humungus||

    jeebus?

  • LTC(ret) John||

    The Rebel Alliance?

  • UnionBuiltOhioRoads||

    winner

  • ||

    Update: 23,000 votes for Texan secession overnight.

    http://tinyurl.com/cxalerp

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Hey, 2,000 more and they have 25,000.

  • ||

    They already have just under 63,000. The 23,000 ones overnight were just the latest ones, and the petition's only been online since Friday.

  • ||

    Taking into account the massive hourly acceleration of vote growth, I anticipate about a million signatures by the time the deadline rolls around.

  • gaijin||

    I predict that 99.9% of votes cast will be FOR secession. FRAUD!

  • ||

    It's only fair democracy when our side wins.

    /Leftist.

  • gaijin||

    By any means necessary

    /Leftist Leftist ;)

  • Calvin Coolidge||

    This chart shows the sales of disco records for 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1979.

    If these trends continue ...

  • db||

    I find employee unions to superfluous, regressive organizations that increase costs overmuch and hamper a businesses' ability to adapt to changing markets. In my experience working with unionized labor I have seen coercion, corruption, and laziness set up as ideals for union employees to achieve.

    Some businesses, however, actually prefer to negotiate with a union for some reason. There are sometimes practical reasons, but almost always, interacting with a union hurts a company in the long run.

    How does one manage, then, the argument that businesses should be free to exclude nonunion labor, and that the union deserves some recompense for benefits received by nonunion employees that were negotiated by the union at the union's (really the employees') expense?

    I don't believe it's right to require an employee to pay a third party in order to obtain employment (at least recurringly pay as a condition of continued employment). I also think that an employer has the right to deal exclusively with whatever source of labor it wants. Unions may have the right to compensation for their services, just as an employment service would. But unions do not have the right to coerce membership by the threat of unemployment.

  • Fluhdoten1||

    companies dont have a right to become a monopoly.

    here we have unions seeking to corner the market on labor for the company. seeking to make it part of the formal bargain.

    its nothing other than monopoly. negotiate all you want, just dont try to dictate the companies relationship with other entities.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    "Some businesses, however, actually prefer to negotiate with a union for some reason."

    Easier to corrupt a bussiness agent or local union chieftan and a few cronies.

  • zandooo||

    Sounds like the country is falling apart all around us.

    www.Privacy-Guyz.tk

  • Juice||

    Don't right-to-work laws interfere with the right to contract? If a business owner wants to contract with a union for exclusivity in hiring, why should the state interfere with that? I don't see how anyone can believe in the non-aggression principle and support right-to-work laws.

  • LTC(ret) John||

    Right to Work laws prohibit forced union membership/dues - an employer can certainly still contract with a union - go to the hall and hire them for the job. Of course, the employer that wants only union work done will not last...

  • Juice||

    Correct me if I'm wrong. If an employer contracts with a union to only hire union members or only accept new hires on the condition that they join or pay the union, under RTW laws, the state prevents that. The employee voluntarily accepts the job with those conditions attached and isn't forced to join anything he doesn't want to.

  • Sevo||

    Juice| 11.13.12 @ 10:45AM |#
    "Correct me if I'm wrong. If an employer contracts with a union to only hire union members or only accept new hires on the condition that they join or pay the union, under RTW laws, the state prevents that."

    Yes, it is possible to imagine some hypothetical where RTW laws restrict choice.

  • Juice||

    The employers choices are restricted from the get go. It's not hypothetical.

  • Sevo||

    Juice| 11.13.12 @ 11:54AM |#
    "The employers choices are restricted from the get go. It's not hypothetical."
    Hypothetically, it is possible.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Juice,

    Correct me if I'm wrong. If an employer contracts with a union to only hire union members or only accept new hires on the condition that they join or pay the union, under RTW laws, the state prevents that.


    No, what prevents that is the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. RTW laws simply reinforce the federal statute.

  • Juice||

    Just about the whole NLRB is antithetical to liberty. Doesn't the Taft-Hartley part simply allow states to outlaw closed shops and security contracts? The states don't have to do this.

  • ||

    Yes it does. A free market would have no right to work laws and not protection for unions either. We are very far from a free market in labor though.

  • KDN||

    You are absolutely correct. This is a situation where a statist position is being used to enhance individuals' liberty at the expense of private organizations'. In that sense RTW is something that you would expect the left to push, but that would fly in the face of their longstanding policy of principals over principles.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Juice,

    Don't right-to-work laws interfere with the right to contract?


    No.

    Next question?

    If a business owner wants to contract with a union for exclusivity in hiring, why should the state interfere with that?


    It doesn't.

    Next question?

    I don't see how anyone can believe in the non-aggression principle and support right-to-work laws.


    You don't see. That's the answer.

    Thank you for your questions. The book signing will happen outside. Thank you all!

  • Juice||

    It doesn't.

    Care to clear this up? Maybe by explaining what exactly a RTW law does? Does it or does it not prevent an employer from contracting with a union for the purpose of creating exclusivity in hiring?

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Juice,

    Care to clear this up? Maybe by explaining what exactly a RTW law does?


    It does not restrict an employer from signing an agreement with an union, provided the current employees are not forced to join the union to keep their jobs. You can set up shop and hire only union members of an already existing union, the law as it exists in diffetent states does not stop you from doing that.

    Does it or does it not prevent an employer from contracting with a union for the purpose of creating exclusivity in hiring?


    It doesn't. What it does is prohibit the employer or the union to retain union dues forcefully, that is without the consent of the worker or without disclosure. It also prohibits compelling a worker to join a union as condition to keep his job, as that would become a clear breech of agreement between employer and employee. It also prohibits a union from placing hiring restrictions on the employer if these were not agreed beforehand.

  • Juice||

    What it does is prohibit the employer or the union to retain union dues forcefully, that is without the consent of the worker or without disclosure.

    If the employee is under contract with the employer for a certain amount of pay, then the previous contract takes precedent.

    But most employees, even professionals and skilled laborers, are pretty much in an at-will situation. I don't see how a new union security agreement violates prior contract if the agreement is at will.

    What about a law preventing any cuts in pay or reductions to part time when times are tough?

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    all things being equal you are right.

    a system with union special privileges + right-to-work had more voluntary interaction that a system with just union special privileges.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    s/had/has/

  • DRM||

    The problem is that you misunderstand the nature of a union organized under the NLRA, interpreting it as a private association rather than a specialized organ of the state.

    An NLRA union local is established by an election organized and administered by the state (unlike a private association). It must allow any person in the matching class of employees to join it (unlike a private association). It has a monopoly on "representing" the matching class of employees, regardless of the preference of any given employee, backed by police force. And the employer must negotiate with it, under threat of police force.

    It is an organ of the state in its birth, in its operations, and in its powers.

  • Juice||

    Yikes. I had no idea it was like that.

    So if a competing union came in and tried to get some employees to switch over, they would be prevented by the state, ie police?

    Or if some employees wanted to break off into a new independent union, that's forcibly prevented too?

  • DRM||

    The only way the employees could form a new union is if they managed to get the current union decertified, which involves long and complicated petitions and an election. A fraction of the current employees cannot go off and form their own union; the certified collective bargaining agent still is the only legal collective bargaining agent. If the company tried engaging in bargaining with a non-certified rogue association of employees, it would wind up sanctioned for unfair labor practices.

    There are possible procedures for dividing a workplace by job classification into different unions/locals, but each one has a monopoly for that job classification, and the company trying to get such to compete with each other is a good way to get a unfair labor practice sanction from the NLRB.

    Getting the existing local separated from the larger union and switched to association with a different overarching union is marginally easier than decertification, but the local will still have a monopoly on that workplace.

    Actual labor lawyers and other subject-matter experts will have any number of nits to pick with this high-level overview, but the National Labor Relations Act basically does not, ever, think in terms of individual rights to anything.

    Right-to-work laws are roughly on par with school choice; they're a problematic, jury-rigged, questionable patch on a system it would be much better if we could just blow up, that given current conditions I'm reluctantly in favor of.

  • OldMexican||

    If Michigan, a union stronghold, goes that route, it will become difficult for non-right-to-work states to resist and remain competitive.

    Maybe, but...

    "Barry! Do something! You owe us!"

  • Ska||

    "Hey man, I just went back in time and resurrected Webster's dad! Isn't that enough?!"

  • invalidname||

    Those of you not living in Michigan missed out on some top-grade misleading ads for Prop 2. The most infamous featured a firefighter describing his safety gear and then implying he only has this level of protection because of collective bargaining - http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nk1pV4dYxcA - which led me to wonder if firefighters in right-to-work states have to run into burning buildings wearing nothing but a hoodie and cargo shorts.

  • Redmanfms||

    "...which led me to wonder if firefighters in right-to-work states have to run into burning buildings wearing nothing but a hoodie and cargo shorts."

    No, RTW firefighters first have to run nude to the fire while being chased by ill-tempered laser-equipped sea-bass in land suits, then don a firesuit made of napalm and lead, then enter the building and fight the fire with broken Chinese squirt pistols filled with mercury. This all on the evil capitalist-enforced wage cap of 15 cents a week. Also, once a week any member of the 1% may punch the child of a firefighter in the face.

    Pretty standard really.

  • 16th amendment||

    CA's prop 32 passed. So somewhere else in America unions are still going strong. You won't believe what I read in the newspaper. They are complaining that Brown's prop 30 is not enough. Not enough!!

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