Big Labor's behavior led to right-to-work support

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It was, said the business correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, "akin to pot-smoking pagans driving the Mormons out of Utah."

Rick Newman was referring to the votes in the Legislature last Tuesday that made Michigan -- birthplace of the United Auto Workers and the Teamsters -- the 24th right-to-work state.

Organized labor wouldn't have suffered this stunning defeat if union bosses hadn't tried to amend Michigan's constitution to forbid any restrictions on their power.

Voters in Ohio gave overwhelming support last year to a union-sponsored initiative to repeal restrictions on collective bargaining by public employees. Michigan is the fourth most heavily unionized state. The labor bosses were confident of victory.

But voters rejected the constitutional amendment, Prop 2, 57 to 42 percent in the November general election. The landslide defeat of this "audacious bid for union power" may prompt Republicans to push for right-to-work, The Detroit News predicted, presciently, in a Nov. 8 editorial.

Gov. Rick Snyder was reluctant to support right-to-work legislation, but Big Labor's outrageous behavior changed his mind, said Tom Walsh, business writer for the Detroit Free Press.

The new laws forbid unions to make workers pay them dues as a condition of employment. All workers should pay dues, because all workers benefit from the concessions they wring from management, unions say.

That's a "compelling" argument, said the Chicago Tribune. But the counter argument -- that forcing workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment violates the basic precepts of personal liberty -- "is more persuasive."

The "freeloader" argument might have seemed more compelling to voters if unions spent more on benefits for their members, less on benefits for union leaders and politics. The Michigan Education Association, the state's largest union, spent 11 percent of $122 million on "representational activities."

In 2010, full-time employees in a unionized work force earned a median salary of $917 per week, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median salary for non-union employees was $717. Since 1982, the wages of non-union workers have grown faster than the wages of union workers, BLS says.

Real disposable income in households in right-to-work states is 18 percent higher, University of Colorado economist Barry Poulson found. That's chiefly because more people in them have jobs. Between 2001 and 2011, jobs grew by 12 percent in right-to-work states, fell by 3.4 percent in the others.

"There is a large abrupt increase in manufacturing activity" when one crosses a border into a right-to-work state, according to a 1997 study for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Since passing a right-to-work law in January, Indiana has gained 43,000 jobs. Michigan has lost 7,300. At 9.1 percent, the unemployment rate in Michigan is sixth-highest in the nation. Indiana forced their hand, Republicans say. They had to act to keep Michigan from losing more jobs.

He changed his mind because some 90 companies have decided to relocate to Indiana, Mr. Snyder said. "That's thousands of jobs, and we want to have that kind of success in Michigan," he told the AP.

Nothing in the new laws restricts the ability of unions to organize, to engage in collective bargaining, or to strike. Nothing impinges on existing union contracts. The rank and file have little to lose from right-to-work.

But union leaders and Democratic candidates have a lot to lose. Since government workers in Wisconsin gained the right to choose, the state affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees lost 55 percent of its members. The Wisconsin Federation of Teachers lost 6,000 of 17,000.

Unions responded to their stunning defeat with hyperbolic rhetoric, threats of violence and actual violence. This doesn't tend to enhance popular support.

The big battles the unions have fought so far have been against Republican governors and legislatures. But most in the near future will be against the Democratic mayors of cash-strapped cities.

Industrial trade unions serve a worthwhile purpose. They would be wise to separate from public employee unions, which don't. The reasons they should -- and why they won't -- will have to await another column.


Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio., 412 263-1476. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to:


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