Anniversaries prompt reflection on the past and the future.
In 1997 the Mackinac Center was preparing to move into its new headquarters building at 140 W. Main Street in Midland. As part of the move, the staff decided to place a time capsule in the wall. Rather than rely on the typical date-specific criteria for opening the capsule, senior vice president Joe Overton instead proposed to use public policy milestones.
Among the milestones discussed, Overton proposed: “Michigan adopts a free market in labor representation, to the extent allowed by federal law. Michigan workers are therefore free to join or not join labor unions without government intervention in collective bargaining.”
At the time, such an idea was absurd, but as we like to say here: We unabashedly pursue big ideas with long odds. Fifteen years after that capsule was sealed up, Michigan became a right-to-work state. Since 2012, tens of thousands of workers have exercised their rights, declining to pay a labor union without the fear of being fired.
Even from its early days, the Mackinac Center has recognized the strategic importance of promoting free association in labor representation. We’ve been the leader in providing information about the morality and benefits of right-to-work, which culminated in the state’s right-to-work law. In addition, our litigators helped shut down stealth unionization efforts targeting day care providers, home help workers and graduate assistants. Our investigator exposed the Michigan Education Association’s hypocrisy in opposing privatization of school services while outsourcing many of its own functions. Our policy experts have studied and testified on the benefits of worker freedom across the country, working in Indiana, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri as those states adopted right-to-work laws. In the last three years, we trained dozens of analysts and communicators in the strategies and tactics of achieving a labor policy goal.
Significant accomplishments can prepare you for even greater challenges. The Mackinac Center’s first 30 years prepared us for the next development in labor policy history.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently accepted Janus v. AFSCME, which could prove to be the most significant labor law case in 40 years. Mark Janus is a child support specialist with the state of Illinois. He objects to paying the union as a condition of employment: “I brought this case on behalf of all government employees who also wanted to serve their community or their state without having to pay a union first,” he said.
The case is aimed at overturning a Supreme Court ruling that allows workers in some states to be, in essence, taxed by the union in order to keep a job. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Janus, the ruling would extend free association rights to all government employees who don’t live in right-to-work states. Five million public employees in states like New York, Illinois and California would have the ability to resign from forced unionization.
We know that legal or policy changes do not automatically result in greater liberty. Labor organizations are already planning to minimize the impact of a ruling in favor of Janus. Some legislators will seek to bail out unions using taxpayer dollars. Workers in those forced unionism states will need to be educated about their options.
Advocates, teachers and lawmakers across the country are asking for our help. Thanks to your support, the Mackinac Center is uniquely suited to help shape the future.