Attention MI Gov. Snyder: Right to Work Debate Worth Having

As Indiana soon becomes a haven for business in the “Rust Belt,” an influential columnist in Michigan is imploring Gov. Rick Snyder to display leadership on Right to Work.

Tom Walsh writes:

By discouraging a right-to-work debate in Michigan, is Gov. Rick Snyder guilty of “kicking the can down the road” — and thereby perpetuating the stigma that Michigan has an unfriendly business climate dominated by militant labor unions?

It’s an interesting question, especially since the kick-the-can analogy has been used so often — by Snyder himself, among others — to assess blame for allowing Michigan’s other economic woes to reach crisis proportions.

Snyder has said that the state of Michigan, too, suffered from a kick-the-can refusal to face up to fiscal problems until he took office last year.So why do I raise the kick-the-can issue now in connection with right-to-work? Several reasons:

• Michigan has a lousy reputation nationally as a place to do business, largely because of a perception that it’s a stronghold of organized labor.

• That image is hard to shake, despite data that show labor union penetration dropping and the gap between Michigan and other states’ unionization rates shrinking by half since 2003.

• A spirited right-to-work debate, no matter the outcome, would send a national message that Michigan is seriously looking at ways to change its culture and boost job creation.

• Lastly, next-door-neighbor Indiana may soon become the first Midwest industrial state to enact a right-to-work law forbidding compulsory union membership and the payment of union dues or fees as a condition of employment. The house approved the measure Wednesday. There are now 22 states nationwide.

Snyder has declared that right-to-work is “too divisive” to tackle right now, and he has urged the Legislature not to send such a bill to his desk. But just because an issue is divisive doesn’t mean it should be ducked.

If the right-to-work debate is divisive, it’s probably also inevitable in Michigan, whether Indiana acts first or not.