A controversial poster has been put on display in the Marquette Arts and Culture Center. This supposed piece of art portrays four Republican governors, including Gov. Snyder of Michigan, as iron-fisted fascists, and features the Nazi Eagle symbol with the swastika replaced by the GOP elephant. While the poster is a blatant appeal to hatred rather than open discussion, this post is designed to critique its actual content, specifically the claim that Snyder and his policies are “anti-worker.”
It is true that Gov. Snyder is pursuing policies that would reduce the influence of labor unions in Michigan. However, are such actions actually harmful to workers? Michigan’s unions today are machines with massive bureaucracies. Research by Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center, showed that the Michigan Education Association spent 58.7 percent of its budget on administration and overhead, while the figure was 30.8 percent for United Auto Workers (“Union Spending in Michigan: A Review of Union Financial Disclosure Reports”). Such spending calls the value of unions to their workers into question. True, the value of mass representation might be worth the dues which workers pay, but this is far from guaranteed.
A strong free-market solution is to allow each worker to decide for themselves whether to join a union or not. By logical extension, if workers have the right to associate, they should also have the right not to associate. Compulsory unionization, in which qualified workers are legally prohibited from holding a position unless they join a union, flies in the face of economic freedom, as well as smart business. Any responsible manager should hire the best-qualified individual for a position, and when unions attempt to prevent this, they reward mediocrity. This can be seen in teachers unions when teachers’ hours and pay scales are tightly defined with no regard to merit. Teachers are left with little incentive to excel, and students suffer (along with the best teachers, who do merit more pay).
By fighting against compulsory unionization, especially in the public sector, Snyder and his fellow governors are far from being “anti-worker.” Allowing workers the freedom to manage their own paychecks, rather than pay dues to potentially wasteful unions, is pro-worker. In the long run, right-to-work policies make the unions more efficient and helpful to workers: unions have much more incentive to serve their members well when said members have the freedom to leave if they wish.
Last Thursday, charged union protests met Michigan Freedom to Work’s new drive to enact a state right-to-work law. Here, unions again used the politics of fear to achieve their ends. But these tactics, while seemingly effective, distort reality and confuse level-headed thinking. Unions must stop their politicking and join right-to-work supporters in a civil dialogue about how best to promote worker’s interest.
Union supporters and right-to-work supporters do agree on the problem: Michigan workers find it increasingly hard to find good paying jobs. But each side disagrees on who is responsible for creating this economic mess. Union supporters believe big business outsourced jobs to other states and countries to benefit their bottom line. Right-to-work supporters counter that unions bargained for unwarranted higher wages and drove companies to move jobs to states and countries where wages were more competitive.
As a result, each side presents different solutions. Union supporters believe unions helped workers with their past problems and can help them again today. Right-to-work supporters believe the path forward lies not in antiquated union structures, but in empowering individual worker choice.
But the tone of each side’s rhetoric determines who holds the high ground in the debate. Michigan Freedom to Work spent Thursday peacefully engaging the public with their ideas. They presented their perception of the problem, its proper solution, and the impediments to change. However, union supporters responded with loud interruptions and cat calls, shouting things like “It’s not unions fault,” “You are just corporate puppets,” and “Right-to-work states are not worker friendly.” These overtones possess a decidedly emotional edge different from right-to-work supporters’ controlled tone; an edge undergirded by fear
Emotions like these cloud judgment and prevent many in the labor movement from honestly engaging with the facts and with others who are sympathetic to their cause. The facts do not lie: unions caused much of Michigan’s economic mess and it is unions who prevent movement towards a sustainable future. Right-to-work supporters do not seek to abolish unions or attack workers. They simply ask that workers be allowed the chance to choose who they think best represents their interests, knowing this to be the best way to benefit workers. In this regard, right-to-work can actually be an ally in bringing about the change workers desire. Any further attempts by union supporters to attack these positions with emotionally charged degradations will only continue to delegitimize their standing in the labor debate. Right-to-work supporters have entered the labor debate seeking to teach a new perspective and to learn from their opponents. They want to enter into a civil dialogue with workers, unions and the state about how best to improve Michigan’s economy. Union supporters must join right-to-work supporters at this table free from their fear politics and prejudices. This is the only way for Michigan workers to move forward.
Today, supporters of a right-to-work law in Michigan held press conferences in locations around the state. Five of those supporters appeared in downtown Flint. The main speaker, Stacy Swimp, President of the Fredrick Douglas Foundation of Michigan, addressed the crowd, saying: “All employees should be free to join and financially support a labor union if they choose, without fear of discrimination or penalty. We believe all employees should be equally free to choose not to join or financially support a union, again without fear of discrimination or penalty.”
According to Swimp, this kind of employment discrimination loses jobs and placed Michigan at the bottom of the United States’ economically. He went on to say, “This July Fourth weekend, and every day of the year, individual freedom is the issue.” Laws that promote freedom of choice, argued Swimp, will create jobs, as evidenced by the progress made in current right-to-work states. He ended by saying, “Workers want the opportunity to work for more.”
He was opposed by several union supporters who interrupted his speech on multiple occasions, saying things like, “It’s not unions fault,” “You are just a corporate puppet” or, “Right-to-work states are not worker-friendly.”
Both sides seemed to agree that Michigan is in terrible economic shape, but disagreed on how Michigan got there and how it can regain prosperity. Those who supported unions believe big business was at fault, and that any changes that seem to benefit their bottom line will only serve to perpetuate Michigan’s dismal economic situation. In contrast, those who supported right-to-work believe unions are partly at fault and that the way out is through greater worker choice and freedom outside union structures.
by Kahryn Rombach, 2008 MCPP Intern
One of the reforms that the MCPP urges be made to Michigan public policy is the enactment of Right to Work (RTW) legislation. RTW prohibits the types of agreements between unions and employers which make union membership (or financial support of the union) a prerequisite to employment with that establishment.
Until the late 1940′s, businesses associated under the National Labor Relations Act struck then-legal “closed shop” agreements in which union membership was a condition of employment for all. Under these arrangements, an employee who left the union for any reason (from refusal to pay dues to involuntary expulsion from the union as a form of punishment) also lost his job, even if he had not violated any of his employer’s rules. Continue reading