After the defeat of Proposal 2 — which would have enshrined union rights on the state constitution — on the November ballot, state Republicans smelled an opportunity and decided to push through legislation that would make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state. The circumstances of this legislation can be described as shady, to say the least. Protesters outside the Michigan Capitol were sprayed with mace last week. Some were locked out of the building on the grounds that it was “at capacity,” a claim that was later shown false. This controversy surrounding the protests outside the State Capitol underlines the controversial nature of the right-to-work legislation itself.
As one of the most unionized states in the country, the workers of Michigan have a vested interest in this legislation. The argument at the core of the right-to-work debate is whether or not workers should be required to join a union in their industry. Almost all right-to-work states are states in the South or Southwest and passed their right-to-work legislation decades ago. One of the most recent states to pass such legislation was Wisconsin after extreme contention, and Republican Gov. Scott Walker faced a recall election as a result of the legislative battle. Currently, 23 states have right-to-work laws that allow workers to opt out of union membership, including both the dues and the benefits of membership.
Efforts to make Michigan’s debate more civil than Wisconsin’s were unsuccessful. Pretending that the Capitol building is at capacity simply to keep protesters out is ridiculous. Lying and misleading protesters for whatever reason is unacceptable. Though the bill receives almost universal Republican support, six Republican state representatives and four Republican state senators refuse to support the bill, citing their party’s expedience as a primary concern.
Evidence regarding the claim that right-to-work will increase economic growth usually isn’t favorable. The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank based in Washington D.C., published an analysis of economic growth in Oklahoma that was conducted over the past decade. The state, which introduced right-to-work laws in 2001, has seen jobs in the highly unionized manufacturing sector fall. This is consistent with opponents who insist that passing this legislation will result in a net decrease in wages for both union and non-union members in their respective industries.
Furthermore, union membership in Michigan has declined significantly over the past six decades, according to a Detroit Free Press interview with Michigan State Economics Prof. Charles Ballard. This means that the economic impact of the legislation will be minimal, if not negligible — it will only accelerate an already established trend. Hopefully, the chaotic circumstances surrounding the passage of this legislation will be rectified and right-to-work’s consequences for the state’s unions won’t be too dire if it is signed by the governor.