Tags: Economic- Crisis | Michigan | Right | Work | State

Michigan Becomes Right-to-Work State

Monday, 10 December 2012 10:01 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Just when you think there’s no reason for hope, and that politicians in this country will never get serious about solving problems, you get good news. In fact, you get astounding news.
This week, Gov. Rick Snyder will sign a bill that will officially make Michigan the nation’s 24th right-to-work state. From this day forward, no worker will be required to join or pay dues to a union as a condition of employment with any Michigan company.
If you don’t know the history of the labor movement and its roots in Michigan, you might not recognize what a big deal this is. It’s worth understanding. With its heavy roots in manufacturing, especially the auto industry, Michigan is practically the birthplace of organized labor.
It is still the home of the Teamsters and, of course, the United Auto Workers — which is historically so powerful in Michigan I’ve been told that Michigan Democrats can’t even blow their noses until they check with the UAW first.
When the Big Three automakers came before Congress seeking a bailout in 2008, a review of their business practices revealed some of the most astounding stupidity anyone has ever seen. One of the most egregious examples was the so-called Jobs Bank, which the UAW demanded so that laid off workers would receive 90 percent of their wage for sitting around and doing nothing.
Another was a policy that allowed General Motors employees to retire at age 50 and receive full healthcare benefits for life. At the time GM sought the bailout, it was paying the healthcare costs of more than 100,000 retirees!
This is what the power of unions had wrought in Michigan, and with labor laws that favored the power of the union to compel membership and dues-paying, there wasn’t much Michigan companies could do but appease the unions and give in to their demands for the sake of labor peace.
Meanwhile, the state’s unemployment rate soared well above the national average, while right-to-work states in the south opened new plants that offered good-paying, non-union jobs.
Why didn’t Michigan change its labor laws years ago? Not surprisingly, it was because of the power of the union.
When Republican Gov. John Engler served for three terms from 1991-2002, he enacted many conservative policies, but he didn’t dare try to pass right-to-work because even the automakers had no stomach for the fight they would get from the unions. When Democrat Jennifer Granholm succeeded Engler, the UAW was so deep in her back pocket that there was no chance of any serious reform during her two terms.
Even as the automakers and other Michigan manufacturers struggled under the weight of a bloated wage structure and insane work rules, political leaders had no appetite for standing up to the power of the union. The state’s economy was the worst in the nation by the time its leaders — Republicans and Democrats alike — showed up in Washington to plead for the bailout that would save its signature industry.
At the time, I recall southern senators like Tennessee Republican Bob Corker excoriating Big Three auto executives for their business practices. And rightly so. Plenty of automakers operate in Tennessee without unions and without the associated costs. Corker was quite reasonable in wondering why taxpayers from his state — where they know how to make things profitably — should bail out a state that insisted on clinging to such self-sabotaging policies.
But we found out this week that there are limits to self-delusion. By passing right-to-work, Michigan’s leaders finally recognized they cannot continue on their present economic course and expect things to get any better.
Gov. Snyder, who said right-to-work was not on his agenda when he first ran, saw what happened earlier this year when neighboring Indiana passed right-to-work and saw its job growth soar while Michigan continued to lag behind. Something had to be done. And so it was.
The fight is not over, I’m sure. Unions are among the primary sources of campaign cash for Democrats, and now they’ll have a harder time collecting the dues that fund those campaigns. Neither they nor their Democratic allies will take this lying down. They will try every legal and procedural trick they can find to get back the right to force compulsory membership and dues-paying.
The day the bill passed last week, there was a violent scene at the State Capitol as union members nearly broke down the doors to the building.
People who have been entitled to something for a long time will fight hard to keep it, even if their privilege comes at the expense of everyone else’s well-being. Often, such people hang on to their privileges because others are afraid to stand up to them. That’s been the case in Michigan for a very long time, but today — astoundingly — that has changed and it’s a new day.
Wow. Sort of gives you hope that maybe the political will to really solve problems actually exists, and maybe there’s a chance we could fix a few other things in this country as well. Nice going, Michigan. Who would have ever thought?
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Just when you think there’s no reason for hope, and that politicians in this country will never get serious about solving problems, you get good news.
Monday, 10 December 2012 10:01 AM
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