Right-to-Work in Michigan and Beyond

Tales from the road

F. Vincent Vernuccio

Across the country policy makers, activists and citizens are taking note of the historic move Michigan made last December to finally give workers the freedom to choose whether to financially support a union. The Mackinac Center is traveling the country on a “You Can, Too” tour, telling the story of how a state with the 5th highest union membership rate in the nation, where the UAW was born, and with a traditional labor stronghold was able to enact worker freedom.

These talks are more than a simple retelling of the 20 years the Mackinac Center has been saying right-to-work is right for Michigan and the events that spurred its passage in 2012. They are a message of hope.

Many believers in the free market are dismayed with the events in Washington but see real promise in the states. Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana put workers, job creators and taxpayers above the special interests and are leading the charge.

States like Pennsylvania, Montana, Missouri and Ohio have all taken note and are moving to follow the lead of these labor reformers.

Closer to home, Mackinac is speaking to Michigan residents about what the new right-to-work law means and how it will affect them.  I have had the privilege of presenting at several town halls hosted by Americans for Prosperity-Michigan. 

From Monroe County to Grand Rapids, the Center has been showing that right-to-work states have lower unemployment, higher job growth, higher population growth, and, when cost of living is factored in, workers are actually making more.

More simply though, the talks revolve around worker freedom. Right-to-work simply means that a union cannot get a worker fired for not financially supporting them.

Many people in the audiences have already supported worker freedom. Some were unsure, and a few union officers even stood up to voice their opposition.

At multiple events I was able to speak directly to union members. I think, when all the facts were presented to them, some may have even changed their minds in favor of worker freedom.

At one event a former officer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers stood up to voice his opposition for right-to-work. We verbally sparred publicly but after the event was over I made a point to talk to him. While he still disagreed with me, he did invite me to tour the IBEW Training Center in Warren.

I took him up on the offer and was able to see a state of the art facility preparing union electricians to do work around Michigan and the country.

The center was one of the main things unionization should be about, training workers to do their job well and preparing them for a competitive job market. It is also indicative of the future of unions in Michigan with a right-to-work law: the unions which represent their members well and provide a valuable service will not only survive, but thrive. 

The first few years of right-to-work in Michigan will be confusing; some workers gained their rights as soon as the law went into effect on March 28, 2013, while others may wait years for their contracts to expire or be modified. But the Mackinac Center continues its fight for these and all workers in Michigan and around the country.

"Editor’s Note: For more information on right-to-work, how it will help Michigan’s economy and how union members can exercise their rights under the new law, check out Mackinac’s new website MIworkerfreedom.org."