On Tuesday, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder put a right-to-work law on the state's agenda. Union workers rapidly organized a protest at the state capitol, loudly crowing the halls of government and booking every hotel in town. This video shows protesters crowding the gallery of the Michigan State Capitol.
State Representative Tom Hooker joked with MIRS News, "I think we need (Rep.) Ed McBroom out there trying to get those people to sing 'Silent Night' or 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." (McBroom frequently plays the Capitol's first floor piano, and performed "Blue Christmas" with Rep. Mike Callton on the harmonica on Wednesday.)
On the other end of the political spectrum, Tea Party groups across the state have been organizing a counter-protests at the capitol to show their support for the legislation that will effectively cripple the force of organized labor in its very birthplace.
To Lansing insiders, the new emphasis on right to work is no surprise. Many have anticipated its role during this lame duck session. But as Michigan creeps closer to adopting right-to-work legislation, joining states such as Illinois, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida, there are two predominant consequences to consider, neither of which have anything to do with benefiting the laborforce.
1) Right-to-work is really about political might.
In the dwindling days of the overwhelmingly Republican 96th Legislature (the GOP lost six seats in the recent election), right to work has become an increasingly important power play. Passing RTW would be a huge step forward for the Michigan GOP, precluding legislation the Democrats will be pushing for in the new 97th Legislature. It's a bold tactical move which aims to stalemate the opposing party with highly controversial legislation.
Throw into the mix that Michigan, though it does lean red, is an odd shade of red. It's not uncommon for conservatives in Michigan to support a union. Michiganders find themselves torn between loyalty to an organization that in past years has improved their working conditions and union demands which, at times, stalemate industry.
The recent Michigan ballot measure, Proposal 2, must also be considered. Proposal 2 proposed constitutional ammendment to strengthen citizens' collective bargaining rights, defeated handily 57% to 42%. But when the votes are broken down by districts, the margin of victory becomes narrower. In the UP, as far away from industry as possible, a state representative in a district that leans Republican saw Prop 2 losing by only about 1,000 votes.
Taken together, these facts demonstrate that a new emphasis on right to work is a hig-risk gamble on the part of Republicans, a move which seeks to win a political power struggle in the state rather than benefit citizens.
2) RTW doesn't improve unions; it effectively destroys them.
Just a reminder, the legislation gives employees the opportunity to "opt out" of their union and thereby have more takehome pay without union dues. The idea is to (A) improve the condition of employment by giving the option to take home more pay and (B) to allow union members to vote with their feet, taking away the stranglehold the UAW, for example, usually has on the auto industry.
There is not a shred of evidence to show that this increased take-home pay benefits the individual more than the benefits of union membership. It's a rational-action assumption politicans make, and because it is rational, it's readily accepted by those who lean anti or moderate when it comes to unions.
The problem is that the power of a union comes from all-or-nothing membership. Recall our history lessons: Strikes and collective bargaining only work if they are, well, collective.
Anti-union advocates claim that unions are too bureaucratic and simply exist for their own sake. That may be so, but we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Giving our permission to weaken the institution of unions as a whole really only re-opens the Pandora's box we closed only a few decades ago.
In the following days, the singular question Michigan legislators must as is simple: Is it worth it?