Conservatives won an enormous victory in Michigan last week. The state just passed a right-to-work law that makes union dues voluntary.
Starting next year, union contracts cannot require employers to fire employees who do not pay union dues. The state that gave birth to the United Auto Workers union has become America’s 24th right-to-work state.
Unions are furious and vowing to overturn the legislation via an initiative. However, it is hard to see this drive succeeding. Unions already put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot to prevent the legislature from ever passing a right-to-work bill. Michiganders voted it down by a 15-point margin.
That is not surprising: Polling shows that a majority of Michiganders support right-to-work. So do 40 percent of union households.
This is great news for Michigan’s unionized workers and unemployed.
Unions can no longer take Michigan employees support for granted. Workers now have a choice about paying for their services. This will force unions to become more attentive to their members’ concerns. Union dues typically run between $600 and $900 a year. By an almost two-to-one margin, union members say they do not get enough value for their money. Workers who do not feel they are getting their money’s worth do not have to pay. This forces unions to provide effective representation at a reasonable cost to earn their dues.
ight-to-work also discourages unions from wasting their members’ dues on projects that union bosses care about but rank-and-file workers do not. For example, Michigan unions have lobbied heavily against expanding charter schools and in favor of tax increases, but many union members have different views, especially those who send their children to charter schools.
Right-to-work will also boost investment and jobs in the state. Most companies would prefer not to be unionized. Anyone looking at what happened to Hostess can understand why. As the saying goes, “management gets the union it deserves.” Employers want to know that if they treat their employees well, they will stay non-union.
Right-to-work makes that much more likely. With a right-to-work law, unions know that they cannot force employees who are happy with their jobs to pay union dues. As a result, union organizers become much less aggressive, primarily restricting their attention to workplaces where employees feel mistreated. And that makes a state much more attractive for businesses.
When foreign auto manufacturers came to America, they deliberately chose to locate in right-to-work states. They are not alone. Manufacturing employment is one-third higher in right-to-work states than in states without right-to-work laws. (Unions object that wages are lower, but that is because most right-to-work states have lower costs of living—adjust for that and the apparent disadvantage goes away.)
Right-to-work increases job opportunities for the unemployed and expands workers’ choices about how they spend their money. And that makes last week’s events a beautiful thing.