With Michigan in a state of economic despair and transition, the Legislature needs to remove all obstacles to change. Unfortunately, the largest obstacle standing between the state and recovery is only worsening the situation. The recent petition to "Reform Michigan Government Now" and the recent decision by Volkswagen to build a manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., rather than Michigan, only prove that organized labor is a significant roadblock to prosperity.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, a labor union is "an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members’ interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions." This is a noble goal, and there is no doubt of a need for safeguards against abuses by employers. An average worker who puts in an honest day’s work deserves the best wages and benefits available, as the market dictates. However, at some point in our nation’s history, the labor movement diverted from this goal of helping the common worker to one where it plays a vastly large role in the political system, spending members’ dues on various political campaigns and causes. This would not be such a concern if employees gave that money freely to support political causes with which they agree, but Michigan law forces mandatory dues and union membership as a condition of employment. This practice needs to end, and the best way to accomplish this is through a right-to-work law.
There is the possibility of a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would dramatically alter the size and structure of Michigan’s three governmental branches. This proposal would not only reduce the number of justices and judges on the state courts, but would also change how legislative boundaries are redistricted. These are only two of 31 separate questions that the population will be deciding. If the issue is approved to be on the ballot, state law requires the complexities of the issue — the petition runs more than 19,000 words — will have to be boiled down to 100 words or less for voters.
The group in charge of seeing the proposal come to fruition, Reform Michigan Government Now, has contended the proposal is non-partisan, but refuses to release the source of the funding. Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney revealed he helped initiate the proposal, and has said the "AFL-CIO will probably help going forward" with funding. The Mackinac Center, however, has revealed a PowerPoint presentation presented to union leadership that blatantly outlines the partisan goals of this proposal.
Why are labor unions devoting time, energy and possibly members’ dues towards this proposal? Simple. The only way to protect organized labor’s political interests (and its power) is to align with the beneficiaries of this proposal. This deceptive method to maintain power over a membership that does not have a choice in belonging to a union is unjust and unfair.
Volkswagen, which earlier this year chose to move its North American headquarters from Michigan to Virginia, officially announced last week its plans to open a new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. This move is not surprising, and hardly the first time Michigan has lost in an effort to attract new business opportunities to the state. Although Michigan has prime real estate and a ready-made, experienced manufacturing workforce, we consistently lose these economic opportunities. The power that organized labor wields in the daily lives of Michiganders has a negative impact on attracting potential growth. Various union officials will have you believe that these businesses just want to pay lower than their own inflated scale wages. The larger and more realistic fear is that of work stoppages. Business cannot survive with the constant threat of strikes, as Michigan’s economy is finding out the hard way. The main enticement southern states have in their possession that we do not is a right-to-work initiative that protects employers and employees alike.
A right-to-work law would increase union accountability, which in turn would force union leadership to focus on representing the needs of their members in the workplace, not at the ballot box.
Jim Vote is a graduate student at Wayne State University and a labor policy intern at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.