Right to Work Rolls in Michigan

The movement to protect workers and free them from the yoke of big labor’s power is gaining momentum in Michigan, the Washington Times reports:

In this historic stronghold of the American labor movement, the phrase “right to work” is seen by many as fighting words.

But with a new GOP-controlled state Legislature and a Republican governor in place in Lansing, a move is afoot to make Michigan the 23rd state in the nation to adopt legislation that would prohibit unions and employers from regulating collection of union dues or requiring employees to join a union if their workplace is organized.

“We’ve got growing and substantial support in the Legislature for pursuing Michigan becoming a right-to-work state, but this is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s all about making sure we are removing all obstacles to jobs,” said state Rep. Mike Shirkey, Clarklake Republican.

“Everyone acknowledges that overcoming the 75-plus-year history of legacy unions here is not something you do overnight. But some of the polls statewide indicate the public is moving toward a direction of supporting workers having the choice,” he said. “I’m not anti-union. I call it labor freedom, where unions are as free to make their case as workers are to make their choice.”

A right-to-work bill fell short in 2008, the last time the question was put before Michigan lawmakers. But the balance of power in the state was different: Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm was in charge and Democrats held a stronger edge in the Legislature.

Those who support right-to-work laws say it is unfair to force those who don’t wish to join a union to do so, making them pay dues against their will in order to keep their jobs. Union proponents say it is essential to their ability to organize and negotiate on behalf of workers that the law prevent “free riders” — workers who benefit from the union’s work but don’t join or contribute dues.

Currently, 22 states have passed right-to-work legislation nationwide, including most of the Old South and the Rocky Mountain West.

Right-to-work backers point to new research that finds private-sector total compensation for workers rose an average of 11.8 percent in right-to-work state in the previous decade — nine times the rate compared to what the National Right to Work Committee calls “forced unionism” states.

The Virginia-based group also cited data from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center that found the average cost of living in states without right-to-work laws in 2010 was close to 19 percent higher than in states that had them.

Despite the presence of the powerful United Auto Workers, a recent poll by the Grand Rapids Press found that 51 percent of state residents polled said they would back a right-to-work statute, compared with 27 percent opposed. The poll sample was relatively small, surveying 300 Michigan voters.