The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, January 20, 2012

Right-to-work effort in Indiana raises stakes in Michigan

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING – Will right-to-work in Michigan follow the path of New Hampshire, Indiana – or will Michigan blaze its own trail?

Public pressure in New Hampshire last year managed to flip the votes of enough Republican lawmakers, putting the end to a statewide right-to-work effort there.

But in Indiana, as in Michigan, Republicans control all levers of state power, and GOP Hoosier lawmakers seem intent on marching toward making their state the 23rd in the nation with a right-to-work law.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has predicted that a right-to-work law would be adopted in his state, and passage could come as early as this month. The bill that’s currently moving is Indiana Senate Bill 269 which “would make it a Class A misdemeanor to require an individual to join or remain in a union or to pay any dues, fees or other charges to that same labor organization.”

Michigan State Rep. Mike Shirkey  (R-Clark Lake) told MIRS news service on Jan. 5 that the right-to-work effort in Indiana adds “incentive for us to reevaluate the policies and the paradigms we have here in Michigan.”

He added: “While I'm a little frustrated with the probability we’ll be following Indiana again on something like this, I'm also encouraged they have the leadership to move forward on this, because I think it will put some pressure on us to do the same.” Shirkey said right-to-work legislation would be introduced this year in Lansing, but the effort “is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Movement on RTW in Michigan might come from the state Legislature, but it might come from a petition drive, too. MIRS reported that there is “chatter” from the House Republican caucus on going the petition route. A petition drive would direct anger by organized labor away from GOP lawmakers – but it would also give labor an opportunity to shape public opinion via advertising and other tactics if a RTW measure made it on a ballot.

Right-to-work laws are the ultimate union-buster: they allow “free-riders” to enjoy the benefits of union employment, including collectively bargained wages, benefits and job security – without having to pay union dues.

Promotion of right-to-work laws is taking place in no less than 10 states over the past year, where Republicans have taken over complete control of state governments after the November 2010 elections. A Jan. 7 New York Times editorial said: “There is little doubt that politics is also behind the Republicans’ push for right-to-work laws: they see an opportunity to further weaken unions, which are far more likely to support Democrats – as well as health care reform and a higher minimum wage – by slashing their funding and their donating power.”

Republicans and their business backers across the country have taken the stance that the presence of unions reduce economic growth and jobs. Even though, according to the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute, the presence of right-to-work laws:

  • Reduce wages by $1,500 a year, for both union and nonunion workers, after accounting for different costs of living in the states.
  • Lower the likelihood that employees get healthcare or pensions through their jobs – again, for both union and nonunion employees.
  • Have no impact whatsoever on job growth.

Currently, six of the 10 states with the highest unemployment have right-to-work laws. Right-to-work North Carolina, which typically has the lowest private sector unionization rate (now at 1.8 percent), currently has the sixth highest unemployment rate: 10 percent.

Although the Michigan Chamber of Commerce has chosen to remain neutral on this issue, there is plenty of business-backed support for RTW. The National Federation of Independent Business made RTW passage its top priority in Michigan. The anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors (of course) “strongly supports” right to work. And the “Michigan Freedom to Work” group claims the support of 75 organizations statewide.

 As we have reported, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has said that right-to-work legislation is not on his agenda, but he would sign a RTW measure if it came to his desk.

During a tour of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit law week, Snyder was asked about right-to-work According to Gongwer News Service, he said: “We have a lot of other things on our agenda, both things to wrap up from 2011 and things in 2012 that I think are more important. And to get in a very divisive debate like that, you create an environment where not much gets done. I would point to Wisconsin. I would point to Ohio. If you look at Indiana, that’s kind of consuming all the dialogue in that state. There are a lot of important things to work on. Let’s get those things done where we agree and move forward.”

With significant minorities this year in both the state House and Senate, Democratic lawmakers are powerless to stop RTW.

“Michigan's working families need to make their voices heard and tell these Republicans that Right to Work simply means Right to Work for less,” said Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D- East Lansing). “Republicans have already increased taxes on working families to pay for corporate tax cuts and it's time we end this attack on the middle class and stand up for Michigan's workforce.”