Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thoughts on Right-to-work

Oh shit, we are on the front page of the BBC.

Let me preface this by saying I really haven't really done any research on the current Right-to-work legislation in Michigan or about Right-to-Work in general. So if I'm putting my foot in my mouth, can you please correct me in the comments? Thanks.

As I understand it, the current Right-to-work bills in Michigan would put an end to the agency model we currently have in Michigan. Under the agency model employers are can hire union and non-union employees. Non-union employees are not forced to join the union, but do have to pay a fee to cover the costs of collective bargaining. This basically creates a free rider problem, whereby workers benefit from the efforts of collective bargaining but do not have an incentive to pay for it.

Anyway, under the current legislation, the agency model would be outlawed except for police and firefighters. This is either because firefighters and police are so important and lawmakers don't want to screw them over, or it's because the Republicans in Lansing really really dislike these public safety employees (remember, right-to-work makes things better for employees). Sometimes it's hard for me to get my rhetoric right.

Here's my understanding of the current situation. If RySny signs the right-to-work laws, as he is expected to do this week, they will go into effect around April 1, 2013. From that point forward, the agency model will be outlawed in future contract negotiations. So this means that unions wont immediately end, but they will likely bleed to death slowly. Also, it's worth pointing out that the legislature has attached minor appropriations to each of these bills so that they will be exempt from facing a voter referendum a la Public Act 4. Hella democratic.

Though the proponents of right-to-work legislation (which is bankrolled by folks like the the Koch Bros.) argue that it makes things better for workers and better for the economy, results are inconclusive. There's a lot that goes into economic vitality beyond the right to unionize e.g. the states with the highest (Nevada) and lowest (North Dakota) unemployment rates are both right-to-work states. What is clearer is that in right-to-work states workers earn less (3.2%), are less likely to have employer sponsored health care (2.6%), and are less likely to have an employer sponsored pension (4.8%). Perhaps the most disturbing difference is that the rate of workplace death is 52.9% higher in right-to-work states. Michigan Radio has a good discussion of the impacts of right-to-work legislation on their site.

So how did it all come to this? How did nurses and teachers become vilified by the right as greedy fat cats? As a liberal, I see union spending on political campaigns as an important check on the power of big businesses and the ultra wealthy. Though I could see how this would make me bitter if I were a republican and forced to pay union dues, a portion of which went to counteract my personal political goals. Broadly speaking, I don't think labor has done a great job changing with the times and painting a visionary image of unions in the 21st century. The right has done a good job driving a wedge between working class non-union workers and working class union workers and labor has not done a good job demonstration their value to the country as a whole.

Anyway, I'm probably not as well informed about all this as I should be. If you are looking to get a better informed yourself, Michigan Radio has a lot of good coverage. In particlular, I really liked Jack Lessenberry's essay last Friday and this excerpt from Stateside yesterday. Gentle readers, please share your thoughts on the current right-to-work legislation, unions, and/or the future of organized labor. I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. It is getting increasingly difficult to pretend that we don't live in a society ruled by corporations.

  2. Many things piss me off about this whole thing. 1) The way it was passed...no public hearings, no public comment, just rush, rush, rush it through. 2) That an appropriations rider was attached so that "we the people" can't overturn via referendum. 3) The fact that it was bought & sold by those greedy, soulless bastards at DeVos cults and Koch brothers (pox on all of them). 4) The language of the bill, which lets people get union benefits without paying union dues. If we have to have this bullshit, I'd much rather it let people "opt out" but then have to bargain on their own when the time came (which I'm sure will work out just swell for women, who are almost always underpaid). 5) The fact that the two unions who tend to lean Republican (police & fire) are exempt. 6) The fact that Dickie S. did such an about face. If he always felt like we needed this, why did he run his mouth about not wanting to touch the issue? If he *didn't* always feel this way, why did he change his mind? 7) The fact that there is nothing (that I've been able to find) that shows this will make us "competitive" for jobs or even bring new jobs here. I *have* seen articles that show RTW (4L) states have low per capita incomes and low school test scores. 8) The fact that people fought and died for these rights and, as someone on FB said, these motherfuckers wipe it away with a "lie and a pen".

  3. The funny thing...the Republicans are so big about no free rides when it comes to things like "Welfare Queens". Their rhetoric gets a little more fuzzy when it is about companies like Exxon paying no taxes or people like Romney getting away with 15% (or less). To me Right to Work looks like yet another "have your cake and eat it to" policy that Republicans seem to favor.

    The really sad part is that I thought Snyder was a different breed of Republican and now I see he is just another hack.

  4. And I guess part number 2 that ticks me off about this...given the issues facing the state that the Legislature is dragging it's feet on...this one is deemed the most important.....

  5. Some information on the current state of voluntary unionism & legal responsibility of unions from Bob King President of the UAW: http://t.co/qOZlqTgT

  6. "Though I could see how this would make me bitter if I were a republican and forced to pay union dues, a portion of which went to counteract my personal political goals."

    Non-member dues could not be used for political contributions only for services provided by the union. So, this was never a reason to be bitter for non-member dues payers. Non-members were never 'forced' to contribute to political campaigns.

  7. @Adam,

    Thanks for the info. I still get the impression from some comments on the interwebs that there is still a good deal of misunderstanding regarding the use of non-member dues.