Right-to-Work Laws Can Make Unions Stronger

(Editor’s note: This is an edited version of a commentary that appeared in the Detroit Free Press on Dec. 17, 2012.)

When Gov. Rick Snyder pledged his support to sign a right-to-work law, he said he preferred the term “worker freedom.” Mackinac Center analysts concur and have been spreading that same message for more than two decades.

As Snyder indicated, this is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue or a labor vs. management issue. It is simply pro-worker and pro-liberty. A right-to-work law would have almost no effect on collective bar­gaining, other than to take away the ability of unions to get an employee fired if they refuse to pay the union dues or agency fees.

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The labor movement refers to these people as “free riders” — or more derisively as “freeloaders.” That is patently false. The free rider argument presumes that unions spend all or most of the money they receive on representational activities. Union reports to the fed­eral government and campaign finance records show otherwise.

Nor are unions alone in helping people that do not financially support them. Many trade groups represent entire industries but do not require every business in that industry to pay them. Similarly, groups like the National Rifle Association work on behalf of all gun owners, but not all gun owners are members. People join and support these groups because they appreciate their work and voluntarily want to contribute to them. Unions are the same. If they represent their members well, even with the option workers will pay them.

Even the Mackinac Center gives away its research for free. Support comes from donors who want to con­tinue the Center’s mission and believe in its product.

Right-to-work opponents also like to make outlandish claims that such laws “bust” unions or take away their ability to function. Again, not true. Unions can — and do — exist in right-to-work states. Iowa and Nevada, for example, both have union representation percent­ages in the mid-teens. Alabama, Kansas and Nebraska are all at 10 percent. Michigan, with the fifth-highest per­centage of union representation, comes in at just under 18 percent.

Right-to-work laws can make unions stronger by forc­ing them to focus on their core mission — representing members in the workplace. Convincing employees who have a choice to join and pay dues means those dues will be better spent on their intended purpose.

Forcing an employee to pay a union an agency fee is at odds with the qualities that Americans have em­braced for generations, including liberty and the free­dom of association. Under a right-to-work law, unions would still be able to represent workers and organize new workers, but individuals would have the right to say “no, thank you” to fees if they so choose.


Ted O’Neil is media relations manager and F. Vincent Vernuccio is director of labor policy for 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 authors and the Center are properly cited.