Who's right on Right to Work?

The recent decision by Indiana to become the 23rd state (and first in the Great Lakes region) to enact a Right to Work law had Lansing buzzing this winter that Michigan may soon be the next. At least one legislator was preparing to push the idea and Gov. Rick Snyder, while downplaying the concept, did not say he would veto a RTW bill that reached his desk. The terms of the debate have shifted in recent weeks, though, as a coalition of labor groups announced plans to place on the ballot a constitutional amendment to shield collective bargaining. Bridge Magazine asked advocates for each point of view to explain why their position is beneficial to Michigan.

Collective bargaining protects middle class jobs by Jeff Bean, Flint High School teacher
The middle class isn’t the enemy -- it’s the engine that drives our economy, pumping money into local small businesses and creating jobs. Yet Lansing politicians and corporate special interests are eroding the middle class by passing laws that help rich CEOs and attack basic collective bargaining rights.

Michiganders already are suffering, thanks to the actions of politicians in Lansing, who over the last year have passed laws that hurt children, seniors and families while doing nothing to jump-start our economy. It was just a year ago when they cut more than $1 billion from local K-12 schools and raised taxes on senior citizens, just to pay for a $1.8 billion tax giveaway for corporate special interests like insurance companies, big banks and oil companies.

Now politicians have about 80 bills sitting in the halls of the State Capitol that take clear aim at the workplace rights of people like teachers, firefighters, and nurses. These include bills that would: impose so-called Right to Work laws for teachers, and create new restrictions on workers’ abilities to peacefully demonstrate during a labor dispute. All of these bills -- and dozens more -- would weaken basic protections for working men and women, and dismantle our collective bargaining rights.

Enough is enough. A coalition of middle-class families is joining together and taking a stand. Grass-roots volunteers across Michigan are gathering signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that will enshrine into the Michigan Constitution the basic right of every worker to collective bargaining. More information about this initiative can be found at protectourjobs.com.

Collective bargaining gives people the ability to come together and negotiate fair contracts, and help protect jobs, wages, benefits and safety for all workers. Without these basic collective bargaining protections, CEOs can fire people for no reason, cut people’s wages, eliminate retirement and health care benefits, and outsource jobs to countries such as China and Mexico.

Undermining basic collective bargaining rights won’t do a thing to jump-start our state’s economy. Instead, attacking collective bargaining will further weaken the middle class, harm small businesses and send even more jobs overseas.

The politicians and CEOs who favor weakening or ending collective bargaining say that cutting people’s wages will somehow encourage more businesses to come to Michigan. That’s simply not true. What the special interests behind efforts to weaken collective bargaining really want is a license to outsource jobs -- just to pad their own profits.

Without basic collective bargaining rights, big corporations will get even richer while small businesses suffer. Weakening middle-class families’ wages ultimately means fewer trips to local small businesses like hardware stores and movie theaters. Without a middle-class customer base, small businesses will close and more jobs will disappear.

Attacking collective bargaining also hurts our kids. When teachers like me and school employees are stripped of our basic rights at the workplace, the quality of education suffers. Qualified teachers leave their jobs for other careers or teaching jobs in other states. The best and brightest future teachers leave the state right after graduation. Michigan kids end up paying the price.

The middle class was created right here in Michigan -- and now it’s being smashed.

It’s time that middle class people speak out to protect their wages, benefits and workplace safety from continued attacks by politicians in Lansing.

Jeff Bean is a high school teacher with Flint Community Schools, and a leader with the Protect Our Jobs campaign, an effort supported by We Are the People, a labor advocacy group.

Union leaders put workers, state in bind with onerous rules by Jared Rodriguez, West Michigan Policy Forum
Unions have long served an important purpose in Michigan. But when union leaders refuse to let employees choose whether to be in a union -- and when they force employees to contribute to political causes regardless of personal support -- we know there is a problem.There has been an increase in public discussion around Right to Work laws in Michigan and throughout the mid-west, but many misnomers still exist.

To be clear, RTW is about putting the responsibility and decisions of hard-working employees back in our own hands. RTW laws give every individual employee the right and freedom to choose. No one should ever be forced to join a union, just as no one should ever be forbidden to join a union. Everyone should be able to choose their own job or career path without fear of penalty or discrimination. Period.

RTW laws don’t ban unions, muzzle free speech or short-circuit the voices of employees. Seventeen percent of Michigan’s work force belongs to a union, and after a RTW law, the same percentage will still belong to a union -- if employees believe that union bosses are representing their best interests. Maintaining good customer service and value is how most organizations gain members and have an impact. Labor unions aren’t above accountability and shouldn’t be treated different.

Our neighbors in Indiana have recently taken a giant step forward to support job creation. Lawmakers passed a RTW law in February, giving employees the right to choose whether or not they want to be part of a union. Similar efforts are being launched in Ohio and Minnesota.

Out of fear and protection for the “union institution,” union bosses from outside the state recently launched a ballot initiative in Michigan that, if passed, will result in “Do Not Enter” signs being hung at our border.

Currently, Michigan is a forced union membership state. So, why would union bosses attempt to enshrine their special interest agenda in Michigan’s Constitution and remove the checks and balances from the Legislature?

In a shameless political move, the union bosses admit that the ballot initiative was launched to boost voter turnout for their endorsed candidates in November.  Unfortunately, the consequences of their actions will result in permanently stripping away employee’s rights, doing the exact opposite of what they advocate.

The irony would be funny if the stakes weren’t so high. Michiganders deserve better.

Like it or not, site selection consultants who prescreen potential new locations for companies routinely redline non-RTW states, effectively killing any shot Michigan has at landing many new jobs. The union boss amendment to the constitution will be an instant deal-killer for companies looking to tap into Michigan’s first-rate labor force.

The proposed constitutional amendment will do nothing more than protect the jobs, six-figure salaries and rich special interest benefits of the union bosses, while neutering the rights of the hard-working men and women in Michigan’s manufacturing facilities, hospitals, schools and communities. When union bosses decided to call their ballot initiative “Protect Our Jobs,” they meant it in the personal sense.

There is no doubt about it: Unions were essential in Michigan 50 years ago. They protected the worker and preserved balance in the economy.

The simple truth is, times have changed and union bosses haven’t. The hardworking people of Michigan have a right to be protected, but we cannot let union bosses destroy our economy with their divisive politics and their divide and conquer mentality.

There is a better way forward than to let the union bosses divide us and destroy jobs.  I trust employees to make the right choice for themselves and their families.

Jared Rodriguez is president of the West Michigan Policy Forum, an advocacy group committed to bringing the business community's "voice" to policy matters.

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Thu, 03/22/2012 - 10:25am
I agree with Mr. Bean of Flint Michigan. Collective bargaining evens the playing field so that management and labor can create positive solutions to issues they confront. Union members spend their wages here in the state. Each dollar circulated produces more business activities, creates more employment, raisies the quality of living for all citizens.If there is not enough money in circulation, customers can't buy the products and services that management offers. Then nobody prospers. More than a century ago, Henry Ford paid his workers enough so they could buy the cars that Ford was trying to sell. That dynamic has not changed. If customers lack buying power,businesses fail and fade away. The pernicious effect of outsourcing, in addition to exploiting foreign laborers in squalid conditions, is to dry up funds domestically to buy products. Collective bargaining can't dictate corporate decisions to outsource work, but unions can make their case that reducing the domestic work force is the cause of reduced demand for products.Why is this so hard to grasp?
Thu, 03/22/2012 - 2:29pm
“when union leaders refuse to let employees choose whether to be in a union” “No one should ever be forced to join a union” There’s no requirement to join a union anywhere in the U.S. The federal Taft-Hartley Act prohibits both closed shops and union shops, i.e. shops where everyone is either a union member before they are hired or required to join a union after they are hired. A contract between employees and their employer (the union contract) can, however, require everyone protected by the contract to pay for the service, i.e. pay union dues, and almost always does. So called right-to-work laws allow workers to receive the benefits of the union contract but not have to financially support the union that created and enforces the contract. “union bosses” There are no union bosses. Union members have elected representatives who serve at the pleasure of their members. People who oppose labor unions like to use this term along with “union thugs” for both elected union members’ representatives and the members. “Unions were essential in Michigan 50 years ago.” They were and are just as essential today. Michigan is an “at will” state meaning that without a labor contract between the worker and employer, the worker can be fired at will - for any reason or no reason. An employment (labor) contract spells out the conditions and steps required for firing, so that it can’t be done arbitrarily. “At least one legislator was preparing to push the idea and Gov. Rick Snyder, while downplaying the concept, did not say he would veto a RTW bill that reached his desk.” This statement doesn’t appear be true either. See Snyder’s campaign video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIikLENpg4s
Thu, 03/22/2012 - 4:08pm
Mr Rodriquez, I must say you may have a carrer in writing fiction. Your article on right to work, is a bigamuss bunch of bull crap. I agree with the comments of RM entiterly, and I would add that Michigan already is a Right to Work State. If an employee does not want to belong to a union he/she has every right to apply for employment at a nonunion establishment. As for "bosses" forcing companies to unionize, if that were so then the union membership rate would be 100%, not the 12% that it is. Are unions perfect, hell no. Are employers perfect, hell no, that may exp[lain why unions came about in the first place. If as Mr rodriquez and his ilk are successful, should we not question why the state government is interferring in the private sector on behlf of the business community? Would that also mean that the likes of the CEO of GM or Ford or choose your business will sitdown individually with each employee and negotiate a contract acceptable to each individual employee?
Thu, 03/22/2012 - 4:30pm
"RTW laws give every individual employee the right and freedom to choose." This war has been fought many times. From Lash Larrowe's Labor Law class, about 40 years ago, as quoted by Walter Adams in the preface of one of Larrowe's books. 'Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley [a turn-of-the-century Chicago barkeeper conversing with his straight man, Mr. Hennessey]. "But," said Mr. Hennessey, "these open shop men you mention say they are for unions if properly conducted." "Sure," said Mr. Dooley, "if properly conducted. And there we are: How would you have them conducted? No strikes, no rules, no contracts, no scales, hardly any wages and damn few members." ' The battle for the right to bargain for a labor contract has been going on for centuries and with Republican control of state government, continues anew.
Thu, 03/22/2012 - 6:19pm
And there from Mr. Bean and the previous comments, we have heard the typical public employee/ union spew from folks who've never worked in the private sector (other than maybe a protected unionized position, before it bankrupted its host), never run a real business of any sort, never had to rely on real customers who voluntarily spend their money on your goods or services and/or just basically spent your whole lives living off the tax payers and worrying about your "free" healthcare . No wonder you look back fondly on the paradises of Cuba, North Korea and Detroit and wonder what happened? God help us.
Tim Bos
Thu, 03/22/2012 - 7:37pm
I've seen lots of claims, but all of them wither under the searing heat of close scrutiny intersecting recent data, to say nothing of plain old logic. The US Commerce Dept's Bureau of Economic Analysis took the census data recently and found that the average annual income in RTW states was about $1000 higher than the national average, and ov $2000/yr higher than forced union (FU) states. That is a significant discovery when the fact that the local cost of living is determinative in wages offered by companies, and since most RTW states are in the south with lower cost of living, FU states would naturally seem likely to have higher wages. The feds just stated that's not true. I had to laugh when the claim was made that employers can fire someone simply because they want to. When employees make money for the company they work for, there is no incentive- to say nothing of logic, to fire productive workers. But even so, having the RTW still enables employees to bring in a union, which they do regularly in RTW states. But, the union bosses must earn their keep if they want to keep their members, so they remain motivated to attend to the needs of their members.
David Waymire
Mon, 03/26/2012 - 11:19am
I'd like to see the link to that per cap income post in RTW states. Here are the top 5 per cap income states in the nation. None are rtw: Conn, Mass, New Jersey, Md, NY. Here are the bottom 5 per cap income states in the nation. Four are rtw (all but W Va) : Miss, Id, SC, KY, WVA. And right now, of the 10 states with the highest U, five are RTW states. As a panacea, it's failed miserably. RTW isn't about a better economy. It's about power, who has it, and what kind of state you want to be like. If you want to be like Miss, SC, Ala, Ark. Ind...low income, high U, but low taxes, crappy quality of life, go for it. If you want to be like a successful states...Mass, Conn, NJ, Md, Minn. ... high income, relatively low U, but relatively high taxes and quality of life...then just say no.
Mon, 03/26/2012 - 3:30pm
While American aged. Everyone for or against RTW should read this book to give more incite on what problems can arise when common sense does not prevail when negotiating contracts. This book covers contracts at GM, New York subway system and the city of San Diego . Most were problems with the defined benefits abuse in the contracts.
Fri, 12/07/2012 - 4:24pm
Let’s see. The union negotiates for the benefit of all members but paying for this service by members is optional. Why don’t we apply this logic to all aspects of business and government? We don’t even need the IRS!