RTW Passes; Congratulations to Dr. William Wilson

Economist lost job for supporting right-to-work

When future histories about Michigan’s right-to-work law are authored, there will no-doubt be much ink spilled on the role played by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and others. The Center’s scholars have been talking and writing about right-to-work practically since we opened our doors 25 years ago.

One name that cannot be left out is the role played by Dr. William T. Wilson, a senior policy analyst with the Center. Dr. Wilson was let go from his job as an economist and vice president of Comerica Bank in 1999 after he provided testimony to the Michigan Legislature that was deemed favorable to voluntary unionism.

Dr. Wilson is author of the Mackinac Center’s 2002 study on the effect of right-to-work on economic development. This study was updated in 2007 by the Center’s then-director of labor policy, Paul Kersey, and many of the study’s metrics became the basis for our popular “Right-to-Work Dashboard.” These materials have been used in countless other commentaries, speeches and special op-eds designed to educate the public about right-to-work laws.

So incensed were unions that Dr. Wilson might lend his credibility to the right-to-work debate — and speak favorably of its economic development consequences — that they threatened Comerica to take their business elsewhere. Dr. Wilson ultimately lost his job as a result. 

Because of his courage and personal sacrifice in the face of angry opponents and the loss of his livelihood, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy gave Dr. Wilson our “Lives, Fortunes and Sacred Honor” award. It reads:

Dr. William T. Wilson has earned the Lives, Fortunes and Sacred Honor award for his courageous defense of free labor markets in testimony before the Michigan Legislature and in the press.

His principled analysis incurred the wrath of organized labor and ultimately cost him a job, even though his calls for an end to compulsory unionism find support among legions of Michigan workers.

While his former Detroit employer caved under pressure, Dr. Wilson’s rigorous scholarship and unassailable message continue to resonate and gain strength with all men and women who respect liberty.

Dr. Wilson is still a private-sector economist today and was happy to learn of Michigan’s new right-to-work law. His principled courage is vindicated now. The politically impossible has become the politically inevitable.

When contacted by email about Michigan’s new policy landscape Dr. Wilson responded:

Organized labor has strait-jacketed Michigan’s economy for entirely too long. Not having a right-to work environment has been a gaping wound, bleeding the state of an incalculable amount of capital, jobs and tax revenue. Its passage is long overdue.

It is indeed long overdue, but it is also just a first step in the right direction and one in which contributions by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and Dr. William T. Wilson should long be remembered.