Right-to-Work Drive Gains Steam in Traditional Labor Stronghold

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 4, 2011 | Go to article overview

Right-to-Work Drive Gains Steam in Traditional Labor Stronghold


Byline: Andrea Billups, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

DETROIT -- In this historic stronghold of the American labor movement, the phrase right to work is seen by many as fighting words.

But with a new GOP-controlled state Legislature and a Republican governor in place in Lansing, a move is afoot to make Michigan the 23rd state in the nation to adopt legislation that would prohibit unions and employers from regulating collection of union dues or requiring employees to join a union if their workplace is organized.

We've got growing and substantial support in the Legislature for pursuing Michigan becoming a right-to-work state, but this is a marathon, not a sprint, and it's all about making sure we are removing all obstacles to jobs, said state Rep. Mike Shirkey, Clarklake Republican.

Everyone acknowledges that overcoming the 75-plus-year history of legacy unions here is notsomething you do overnight. But some of the polls statewide indicate the public is moving toward a direction of supporting workers having the choice, he said. I'm not anti-union. I call it labor freedom, where unions are as free to make their case as workers are to make their choice.

A right-to-work bill fell short in 2008, the last time the question was put before Michigan lawmakers. But the balance of power in the state was different: Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm was in charge and Democrats held a stronger edge in the Legislature.

Those who support right-to-work laws say it is unfair to force those who don't wish to join a union to do so, making them pay dues against their will in order to keep their jobs. Union proponents say it is essential to their ability to organize and negotiate on behalf of workers that the law prevent free riders - workers who benefit from the union's work but don't join or contribute dues.

Currently, 22 states have passed right-to-work legislation nationwide, including most of the Old South and the Rocky Mountain West.

Not surprisingly, Michigan Senate Democrats, who count labor as a key part of their base, oppose the move, calling it a divisive and partisan distraction for a state still struggling to get back on its feet economically.

Michigan's middle-class workers have been forced to endure continued attacks from our Republican leaders throughout 2011 and these so-called 'right-to-work' proposals are simply the latest in that misguided effort, said state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of Lansing. Instead of focusing on creating jobs, Republicans .. now want to pass this bad policy that would lead to lower wages and fewer benefits for those already struggling to make ends meet

Right-to-work backers point to new research that finds private-sector total compensation for workers rose an average of 11.8 percent in right-to-work state in the previous decade - nine times the rate compared to what the National Right to Work Committee calls forced unionism states.

The Virginia-based group also cited data from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center that found the average cost of living in states without right-to-work laws in 2010 was close to 19 percent higher than in states that had them. …

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