Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Opinion | Right-to-Work is a lie told to cheat Michigan workers, repeal it

If you’re familiar with downtown Detroit, you undoubtedly know of a 68-foot-tall circle made of steel blocks in the center of Hart Plaza. It’s a monument to honor Michigan’s proud status as a historic battleground for the American labor movement.

Sean O’Brien is a fourth-generation Teamster and general president of the 1.2 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

There’s a giant break at the tip of the arch. It symbolizes the gap between all we’ve accomplished and how much work remains to achieve true economic justice for working people in our country. State lawmakers can help narrow that gap by repealing Right-to-Work.

Right-to-Work is a con game. It’s a rip-off. It’s a lie told to cheat Michigan workers.

Right-to-Work legislation is carefully and deceptively crafted to prevent labor unions from collecting dues from the members they serve and represent. It replaces the traditional and fair union dues model with a free-rider program where unions are forced to collectively bargain on behalf of non-dues paying members. Without full resources, unions would be unable to adequately protect and represent their members and would face certain financial collapse.

This is the true intent and final solution inherent in Right-to-Work legislation — to kill unions and end collective bargaining for good.

In states where right-to-work legislation is currently in place, the data is not good. Workers have lower wages, less retirement security, worse health care benefits and higher rates of workplace injuries and deaths. 

Today, the labor movement is resurgent. With wealth consolidated at the top, corporations make record profits and shovel it to their executives. But workers young and old know the score. Younger workers especially know they face a tougher financial road ahead than their parents ever did. Home ownership is increasingly out of reach. For young people to buy health insurance, a car and obtain a college degree they must submit to massive debt.

This is the fuel empowering union organizing drives in so many industries in so many states. A dozen Starbucks in Michigan have joined hundreds of others nationwide to unionize. The

Teamsters organized the first-ever Chipotle store in Lansing, as well as cannabis workers in Southern Michigan. Today, there are bank tellers, grad students and retail workers getting involved in the Michigan labor movement for the first time ever.

The Teamsters represent 35,000 workers in Michigan. More than 5,000 Michigan Teamsters work with our largest employer, United Parcel Service. The UPS Teamsters National Master

Agreement will be renegotiated in 2023 to protect more than 340,000 American workers. It’s the largest private collective bargaining agreement in North America and a pulse for the heartbeat of the American middle class. 

Teamsters are fighting to secure higher wages, better benefits and safer working conditions at the eighth-largest employer in the world. This is a milestone battle for the Teamsters, yes, but so too for American workers everywhere.

Big Business has ripped off the American worker for so long now, many of us are numb to the grift. But the scam remains. The corporate boards, corrupt politicians, and soulless lobbyists who participate in draining our pockets will continue to get away with as much as we allow them to. This truth strikes at the heart of corporate-friendly, anti-labor legislation like Right-to-Work. 

Legislation like this is just another gift to Big Business, designed to keep money in boardrooms and the halls of power and out of middle-class homes. The rich will get richer and working families will continue to suffer if we allow such an inequitable system to exist and grow stronger.

Corporate America wants workers to embrace the new gig economy and to believe being classified as independent contractors will afford you more freedom and flexibility. Do not buy into this false confidence. Their ultimate goal is to abdicate all responsibility to their workers. Unions are the only thing standing in the way of that goal. And that’s what Right-to-Work is all about.

The statue in Hart Plaza is called “Transcending.” It’s fitting. The American labor movement itself has been transformed many times over by the sweat and sacrifices of Michigan workers.

It’s time for Michigan’s elected officers to honor the proud tradition of the state’s working class and transcend beyond the grift of Corporate America. See beyond the illusion of Right-to-Work and repeal a law that actively harms Michigan workers every day it remains on the books.

How impactful was this article for you?

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

Only donate if we've informed you about important Michigan issues

See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:

  • “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
  • “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
  • “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.

If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now