Posted 12 months ago on Dec. 12, 2012, 6:41 a.m. EST by MarkKevin
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Worker Liberation in Michigan
The Wall Street Journal, Dec 12, 2012
Another state gives individuals the right not to join a union.
The economic policy drift in Washington is antigrowth, but here and there in the states are glimmers of hope and change. The best news of late is in Michigan, which is poised this week to pass a landmark right-to-work law.
You can tell this is a big deal based on the fury of Big Labor's reaction. Union activists plan to descend on Lansing Tuesday to protest, including many from out of state. State police will have to be on duty to ensure that legislators can get through what is likely to be a loud and abusive cordon of activists who want to block the vote.
This thuggishness is a deliberate and familiar union political strategy: Cause as big a ruckus as possible in hopes of making right to work seem radical when it's already the law in nearly half the country.
We hope Republicans and Governor Rick Snyder aren't intimidated, because they have the moral and policy high ground. Union activists want voters to believe that right-to-work laws deny union organizing rights, or ban collective bargaining. President Obama peddled this distortion on Monday in Redford, Michigan, claiming that "what we shouldn't be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions."
Right to work does no such thing. It empowers individual workers. As allowed under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, right to work merely lets individual workers choose for themselves if they want to join a union. The laws prevent closed union shops, which coerce individual workers to join unions and to pay union dues. A teacher who opts out under right to work, for example, could save several hundred dollars in annual union dues that go to political causes he may not even believe in.
Unions loathe right to work because they know that many workers would rather not join a union. Americans have seen what happened to the auto and steel industries, the Post Office and so many others. Unions can extract monopoly wages and benefits for a time from a profitable industry, but often at the cost of making that industry less competitive and eventually at the cost of union jobs. Thus did Teamster work rules—cake and bread had to be delivered in separate trucks—cost the bakery workers their jobs at Hostess. Right to work gives workers a choice.
The Michigan law is a particular breakthrough because it comes in what used to be America's industrial heartland and in a state where 17.5% of workers are still unionized. Nationwide, the share is 11.8%, though only 6.9% in the private economy.
Both houses of the Michigan legislature passed right-to-work bills last week, the House for private workers and the Senate for both private and public workers (save for firemen and police). Mr. Snyder says he'll sign the law once the versions are reconciled.
Because the final right-to-work bill will contain an appropriations rider, under Michigan law unions won't be able to overturn it by referendum, as they did to Ohio's collective-bargaining reforms in 2011. Unions can still try to overturn right to work with a constitutional amendment, but that's a harder slog. The union attempt in November to enshrine collective bargaining in the state constitution, which won only 42% of the vote, broke a longstanding tacit truce in Michigan politics on union rules and prompted Republicans to pass right to work.
Michigan would become the 24th right-to-work state and it could be the best thing to happen to its economy since the internal combustion engine. Michigan still has the nation's sixth highest state jobless rate at 9.1%, and it had one of the lowest rates of personal income growth between 1977 and 2011. A flood of economic evidence shows that right-to-work states have done better at attracting investment and jobs than have more heavily unionized states.
According to the West Michigan Policy Forum, of the 10 states with the highest rate of personal income growth, eight have right-to-work laws. Those numbers are driving a net migration from forced union states: Between 2000 and 2010, five million people moved to right-to-work states from compulsory union states.
Other policies (such as no income tax) play a role in such migration, so economist Richard Vedder tried to sort out the variables. In the 2010 Cato Journal, he wrote that "without exception" he found "a statistically significant positive relationship" between right to work and net migration.
Mr. Vedder also found a 23% higher rate of per capita income growth in right-to-work states. An analysis by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance finds that Michigan is now the 35th state in overall prosperity measured by per capita income. Had Michigan adopted a right-to-work law in 1977, the group estimates, per capita income for a family of four would have been $13,556 higher by 2008.
As impressive as all of this evidence is, the best case for right to work is moral: the right of an individual to choose. Union chiefs want to coerce workers to join and pay dues that they then funnel to politicians who protect union power. Right to work breaks this cycle of government-aided monopoly union power for the larger economic good.