The number of states with right-to-work laws is growing nationally as organizations like the United Autoworkers of America lose their stronghold in traditionally pro-union states, a panel of experts said Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
States like Michigan, which once was the state with the fifth-highest union representation, are finally giving workers the "freedom to choose," said F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, who joined the panel discussion, led by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, along with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus; Capitol Research Center President Terry Scanlon; and Luke Hilgemann, chief operating officer for Americans for Prosperity.
Right to work laws "simply take away a union's ability to fire workers" for not paying dues, said Vernuccio, to which Scanlon agreed.
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"Five years ago, who would have guessed Michigan or Wisconsin would have done what they did," said Scanlon. "I would say any state is open [for right-to-work laws].
There are currently 24 states with right to work laws, and the panelists said the fight continues, but there will be more states joining in.
"Indiana was a long process," said Vernuccio, noting that over a decade, the state's right-to-work laws passed, spurring movement in Michigan.
In addition, he noted, there were "doom and gloom" people predicting that lawmakers would lose their seats if such laws passed, but that didn't happen.
"If you take on special interests, and if you put taxpayers first, you will be successful," he said.
Priebus noted that every state has a different issue when it comes to collective bargaining.
"What happened in Wisconsin, school districts get a certain amount of money," he said. But the districts are only allowed to enact levies for one-third of the amounts they need to get, and end up with "a hole that can't be filled. The only way to fill that hole is to by firing a bunch of people. [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker was facing a problem; a whole lot of people were going to be fired."
But Walker came up with "the most reasonable way" to solve the problems and eventually turned a $1 billion surplus back to his state, Priebus said.
He noted that tea party groups are helping to bring right to work laws to states. For example, Pribus noted, in Wisconsin there were an estimated 25 organized groups to rally for the cause.
"That's what happens when there's almost total unity," he said.
Despite the right-to-work successes, the UAW is not going away, said Scanlon, even though it lost a key win when workers at the Chattanooga, Tenn. auto plant voted down joining the labor organization
"The UAW now has 40,000 teaching assistants in universities across the country," said Scanlon, noting the union is trying to organize in several other foreign-based automakers, including Daimler-Benz.
But Priebus noted that there are many "rising stars" at the state government level, and he encourages people to look for those rising stars to keep up the fight.
Vernuccio said there are several other states looking at right-to-work laws, including Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania, and he believes those laws will be passed quickly.
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