Commentary | Michigan demonstrators protesting a new “right to work” bill (often dubbed a “right to work for less” move by opponents) have crowded the Capitol in Lansing, chanting “this is our house” and “what’s disgusting, union busting!” in an attempt to sway Gov. Rick Snyder from signing the controversial legislation as he has promised in recent weeks.
The Michigan “right to work” legislation is part of a larger push to erode the rights of workers, seen in recent years in states like Wisconsin where the anti-union push by Gov. Scott Walker caused similar protests at the Capitol.
Michigan’s pro-union protests — which, by estimates on Twitter, have drawn at least 13,000 demonstrators — are particularly significant due to the state’s rich history and heavy number of unionized residents (17.5 percent, by some estimates). The United Auto Workers union has a large presence in the state and at the protest, and weakening that base will go a long way to hobbling union support in the Midwest overall.
While anti-union forces — strongly supported by large corporations looking to do away with pesky workplace safety and minimum wage regulations — lobby and astroturf for “right to work” laws, the legislation dilutes union power by allowing workers to take advantage of “free rider” clauses. US Rep. Sander Levin, a Democrat, explains:
“The union is required by law to provide equal benefits to every member of that bargaining unit, whether they join or not … They’re required to provide equal benefits to everyone.”
And thus, “right to work” laws allow for effective union power reductions by forcing the labor organizations to provide the same resources while reducing support by workers themselves for the unions charged with protecting them.
In Detroit on Monday, President Barack Obama spoke on the issue of union busting in states like Michigan, telling workers that voters have been tricked into believing unions are to blame for the current state of employment in the US and that they’ve been sold a false bill of goods:
“You know, these so-called right-to-work laws, they don’t have to do with economics … They have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”
The effects are chilling, as they will be in the already suffering state of Michigan. If “right to work” legislation passes in Michigan, workers can look forward to making at least $1,500 less on average per year than their counterparts in states without similar laws on the books. Workplace deaths are more than 52 percent more likely to occur in “right to work” states, and workers in those states are less likely to receive employee benefits like healthcare coverage.
Critics also counter that of the 12 states with the highest unemployment, eight have enacted similar “right to work” laws that restrict the number of union jobs. Do you agree with Michigan protesters that “right to work” laws are not in the state’s best interests?