Mich. now right-to-work state

A right-to-work law is on the books in Michigan, a mainstay of organized labor, but those considering opting out of paying union dues will have to wait months or years to do so.
AP Wire
Mar 29, 2013

 

The law, which lets workers choose not to pay to the unions that bargain on their behalf, applies to labor contracts that are extended or renewed starting Thursday — meaning many employees will not be affected until existing collective bargaining agreements end.

"I've got a long way to go until I can exercise my right," said Terry Bowman, 47, who works on the line at a Ford Motor Co. plant in Ypsilanti.

Contracts between unions and Detroit automakers are effective until September 2015.

Bowman, who founded a group called Union Conservatives, said he is leaning toward ending his membership in the United Auto Workers — of which he has been a member since 1996 — unless it drops its "political agenda." He said there are many more blue-collar people like him, but they are scared to publicly support right-to-work because of pressure from union leaders after the law won quick approval in December 2012 from the GOP-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.

Though Bowman does not expect a "mass exodus," he said some unions could lose a quarter of their membership.

Michigan, the 24th right-to-work state, has the nation's seventh-highest percentage of unionized workers. Peer pressure and tradition may go a long way to keep the larger, more established unions intact. The UAW, for example, has been intertwined in Michigan's culture of manufacturing cars and trucks for 77 years.

Neighboring Indiana enacted a right-to-work law in February 2012. The early results: Union membership declined to 9.1 percent of the workforce last year from 11.3 percent in 2011, according to federal statistics — a loss of 56,000 people. Most of Indiana's unions have not yet seen a big drop-off in membership, but many contracts are still in place from before the law took effect.

The declines may indicate more of a national trend, as membership across the U.S. has shrunk to its lowest levels since at least the 1930s — a paltry 6.6 percent in the private sector. In Michigan, union membership dropped to 16.6 percent from 17.5 percent a year earlier, a decline of 42,000.

"The labor movement has done a lot of great things for our country. It's not about being anti-union in my view. It's about being pro-worker," said Snyder, who contends more companies will consider moving to or expanding in Michigan because of the right-to-work law.

Staunch union members say the law has very little to do with economic development and is more about union-busting for political reasons.

"It's clear to me that right-to-work is not at all for labor," said Steven Strahle, a University of Michigan nurse in Ann Arbor.

He said there is no way he will leave his union, which he has been a part of since 1999. He said he previously worked as a nurse in a non-unionized workplace and worries the law will depress wages and benefits for the working class.

Having a union contract helped his "ability to be an advocate for your patient without any type of retribution, having a voice to provide the quality care that you want to give to your patient every day," said Strahle, 50.

He participated in a small, silent protest at the state Capitol on Thursday, 3 ½ months after thousands of chanting, whistle-blowing demonstrators thronged the building on the day right-to-work received final passage in the Legislature.

Union organizers asked people statewide to wear red to protest the law. Dozens did so at a morning rally outside the Detroit Athletic Club, where Snyder spoke at a "Pancakes & Politics" event.

Toting a "Snyder (equals) Snake" sign, 52-year-old Detroit resident Dwight Jarrett called on the governor to repeal the law.

"If he doesn't do the right thing, we'll make sure he's out in 2014," he said.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed to strike down the law. Legal challenges in neighboring Indiana have been unsuccessful. Snyder said Thursday that right-to-work is "done" and "over with."

Legal action also has been taken regarding the recent approval or consideration of lengthy contracts for employees of some of Michigan's public universities and school districts that will allow unions to keep collecting dues long after the right-to-work law is in effect. In response, House Republicans have initially approved budgets cutting state aid to schools and local governments that sign contracts that, in some cases, are 10 years long. Snyder and Senate leaders appear less open to the tactic.

The law cannot be overturned directly in a referendum, yet unions could decide to back a 2014 ballot measure that effectively overturns it. The law's backers expect that a ballot initiative is coming to coincide with the re-election bids of Snyder and GOP legislators next year.

"In all candor, March 28th is just another day leading up to the real showdown that will take place in November 2014," said Scott Hagerstrom, director of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity-Michigan.

"Michigan could be big labor's last stand. If right-to-work can stand in Michigan, it can stand anywhere," he said.

Comments

Mystic Michael

"Right To Work": Now there's one of the most flagrant examples of Brave New World double-speak ever to hit the English lexicon. On its face, it would appear to be all about employee choice and employee livelihood - which is precisely why the term is such a devious and diabolical lie.

In actuality, it's a classic "divide & conquer" tactic cooked up by the corporate plutocracy in order to undermine & weaken the one and only force capable of challenging its supreme power in the workplace, and thereby keep the plutocrats halfway honest: Namely, worker solidarity.

Any unionized worker who would so cavalierly throw away all the hard-earned progress that workers now enjoy due to union power, purchased at such a dear sacrifice with all the blood, sweat & tears of previous generations, merely because he/she is too cheap to pay a few bucks per month in union dues, is a short-sighted fool who probably deserves the mistreatment that will follow. Unfortunately, that person also has the potential to help bring down many thousands of his/her fellow workers - who don't deserve such a fate, but might very well suffer it anyway.

MM

Peter56

Or maybe we are sick of giving our hard earned monies to a group of Democratic front men and receiving nothing in return.

Mystic Michael

A prime example of what I mean. I rest my case.

MM

Lanivan

It appears you have swallowed the Party propaganda hook, line and sinker, and proved MM's point - Right to Work is politically-motivated rather than an honest attempt to improve the economic environment.

You know, Peter56, if you are opposed to unions, simply don't accept a union job. We live in a country where people can make choices based on their beliefs, and are not forced to take on union jobs or any other for that matter. I'm sure there are plenty of other folks out there who would love that union job that you seem to resent.

Lanivan

The very fact that the Michigan legislature chose to pass this law during a lame-duck session, with little to no prior discussion, is telling. In a state where union membership and influence has steadily dropped, our legislators still had need to pass this law that, in fact, has nothing to do with having the right to work but everything to do with further weakening unions.

24 states have Right to Work laws, some going back to 1947. Intensive studies are inconclusive as to the economic benefits of the law. Because many of the states offer a pro-business package that encompasses Right to Work, it is difficult to ascertain the influence this specific law actually has in bringing in new business, keeping existing business in the state, or employment.

Evidence is conclusive that workers in Right to Work states have lower wages - $1,500 or more on average -, less benefits, and fewer pensions that workers in non-RTW states.

It seems that workers who are proponents of the law will now not only be able to benefit from years of collective bargaining without paying for it, they will also be subject to the inevitable decrease in wages, benefits, and pensions that seems to go hand in hand with RTW laws.

Of course, corporations that are currently sitting on $1.6 trillion of capital, and enjoying a tremendous rebound in profitability will benefit greatly. It will be interesting to see if Michigan Right to Work will be the catalyst in more jobs and economic stability. If prior research tells us anything, we'll never really know.

Mystic Michael

I think then that the key questions would be: "more of what kind of jobs?", and "economic stability for who?".

A skilled tradesman earning $35/hour, who loses his job because his employer has found a legal loophole by which to get out of his union contract, may find that he now has his choice of burger-flipping jobs - all paying from $8/hour to $10/hour. But how does that allow him to put his true skills to use in the market? How does $10/hour allow him to pay his mortgage, and still put food on the table?

MM

Lanivan

Again, studies show that besides reduced wages/benefits in RTW states, a long-term problem is the pattern of reduced tax revenues. State services and education are the losers - look at the Southern states that have been RTW for quite some time, or Oklahoma, that just became RTW a few years ago.

Their educational statistics are appalling, and the result is a shortage of trained, educated workers. RTW states tend to attract low-end, temporary, low-wage/benefit businesses rather than those businesses that require the higher educated or technically skilled worker, who make a wage that can support a family.

Folks out there who think RTW is a great way to stick it to the unions may be in for a big awakening down the road.

Mystic Michael

Put into context of the facts that Lanny has just provided, RTW legislation can accurately be viewed as just one indicator in a well-known and predictable pattern of economic & political retrogression - all pointing toward the long-term economic decline of Michigan, ultimately resulting in a new "commodity economy" to replace the "value-added economy" that the state previously enjoyed.

In response to the immense, chronic pain caused by the collapse of the auto industry (and the failure of business leaders & elected officials to sufficiently diversify in anticipation of it), desperate voters elect a Republican government - apparently hoping that all the "pro-economic growth" rhetoric might actually be true.

Instead, what they get - what they ALWAYS get - is more of the same gratuitous giveaways to big business at public expense, with little public benefit to show for it. Working people are compelled to give up more while receiving less. The tax base shrivels, public budgets are cut, vital public investments are killed off, vital public services eliminated - and overall quality of life plummets (although the wealthy and the corporations are doing better than ever). And thus the great tailspin accelerates. Frankly, it grieves me to no end to see Michigan morph into the new Alabama.

But cheer up everybody! With any luck, there'll be plenty of customer service call center jobs and Walmart greeter jobs to go around...

MM

WalmartWolverine

The following PDF might be of particular interest to some of you. The research firm of A. P. Rifool LLC was commissioned by a local enterpriser to compile to data from the posts appearing here as to the specific times of the day they appeared and by whom.

From what it appears to me that Big Brother is interested in finding out what is the use of company computers for personal use during company time.

http://postsupdate.com/data...

 

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