The recent fight in the Michigan Legislature over organized labor was much broader than the bruising battle in Wisconsin in 2011: Here in the Badger State, the fight was limited to the collective bargaining rights of public-employee unions. On the other side of our Great Lake, the stakes were the power of every union in Michigan, public or private.
In what’s known as a closed shop, every employee is required to join the union and pay dues. Closed shops were the result of the Wagner Act of 1935, which allowed organized labor to demand that employers create a closed shop. Right-to-work laws prohibit that: In a right-to-work state, you don’t have to join the union if you don’t want to.
Unions in Michigan tried to pre-empt right-to-work legislation by getting a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot: Proposal 2 asked voters whether they were in favor of legislation to “invalidate existing or future state or local laws that limit the ability to join unions and bargain collectively.”
As the National Review’s James Sherk wrote in October: “This gives unions enormous leverage — nothing gets done unless they agree to it. In the private sector, competition forces unions to use their power responsibly. Asking for too much will bankrupt their employers.”
In the wake of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial push to limit public-employee collective bargaining rights, it was suggested that Walker had given no indication before he was elected in November 2010 that he planned to make such a push. In Michigan, in contrast, United Auto Workers Vice President Bob King said that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder warned him that if the state’s unions pushed to get Proposal 2 on the ballot, Snyder and Republicans in that state’s Legislature — as in Wisconsin, Republicans control the Michigan governor’s office and both houses of the state Capitol — would respond with right-to-work legislation.
The unions went ahead. “I’d rather try and fail than not try at all,” Snyder told the Detroit News on Dec. 13.
Well, not only did organized labor try and fail — Proposal 2 was defeated by a 58-42 margin on Nov. 6, despite President Barack Obama winning Michigan in his successful re-election bid — but Snyder did what he said he was going to do. Right-to-work legislation sailed through the Michigan Legislature, and Snyder signed it into law on Dec. 12.
The percentage of the U.S. population in right-to-work states has risen since 1970, from 28.5 percent to more than 40 percent. Glenn Garvin, a columnist for the Miami Herald, wrote recently that according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, between 2000 and 2009, more than 5 million people moved into states with right-to-work laws from those that don’t have them.
Of the 22 states with right-to-work protection during that period
(Indiana and Michigan have since joined them), 73 percent gained population from
Garvin suggests that “Americans have been, for a long time now, voting with their feet in favor of right-to-work laws.”
Michigan Democrats have vowed to continue the legislative battle. However, having recent experience observing this kind of debate, we’d advise rhetoric less reckless than that offered by Michigan Rep. Doug Geiss, a Detroit-area Democrat: “There will be blood, there will be repercussions.”
This would be just rhetoric if it hadn’t been for the ugly scene on the Michigan Capitol lawn on Dec. 12, when protesters pulled down a large tent erected by the pro right-to-work Americans For Prosperity, trapping people inside.
Detroit’s WXYZ-TV reported that Clint Tarver, not affiliated with a union or right-to-work supporters, said he was just selling hot dogs inside the tent when all of his food was destroyed when the tent toppled over.
“It trampled my table, got rid of all of my restaurant equipment, my catering equipment, my buns, my hot dogs, my chili … all my food,” said Tarver. “One guy even had the audacity to say ‘here, make a chili dog now.’ ”
Those who respond with indiscriminate violence don’t tend to win many people to their side.
The good news for those Wisconsinites made weary by a seemingly endless 18-month cycle of elections? Gov. Walker has no plans to push for right-to-work legislation in the session which starts next month.
On Wednesday, he told the Wisconsin State Journal he wants fellow Republicans who run the Legislature to avoid hot-button issues that could detract from his core priorities, which include creating jobs and boosting worker skills.