Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Following Right-to-Work Approval, Michigan’s Forecast is Blustery with a Chance of Paranoia

It may only be a number of days before Michigan—that’s right, Michigan, the home of the labor movement—becomes a right-to-work state As the Detroit News (dramatically) reports:

The birthplace of the nation’s modern-day labor movement moved closer to becoming the nation’s 24th right-to-work state after bills Gov. Rick Snyder vowed to sign into law passed their first hurdles in the Republican-controlled Legislature on Thursday.

The House and Senate each passed bills on the same day they were introduced that give private and public sector workers the right to avoid paying union dues in an organized workplace. Only police officers and firefighters would be exempt.

The package can’t reach final completion until at least Tuesday because of procedural rules that require a five-day layover for two of the bills before they can be voted on in the other chamber.

So how will labor make its case to stop the legislation?

Much like the uproar in Wisconsin and Indiana, labor has decided to make a loud, incoherent stand against reform in Michigan. There are 671,000 union members in Michigan, and some commentators predict that this legislation will mean near-certain doom for labor. Of course, if unions actually represented their members’ interests, they wouldn’t fear letting employees choose not to join. But firmly entrenched in a failed status quo, labor and their allied Democrats in the Michigan legislature are pulling out all the stops.

When labor protestors tried to storm the capitol, police were forced to lock it down. Eight people were arrested who tried to push past state troopers and enter the floor. And what would a good protest of a law giving people more freedom be if it did not include at least one person intimating that the bill’s proponents are Nazis?

Democrats in the House walked out to protest the bill and one even threatened Snyder that there would be political repercussions from President Obama. According to

Noting that President Barack Obama’s spokesman said the president opposes the Michigan legislation, Sen. Morris Hood III, D-Detroit, said Snyder should now worry the Obama administration will not approve his much-desired new bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Bob King of the UAW urged Snyder to veto right-to-work because it is “divisive.” King must have a short memory—all through the fall, labor pushed for Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment that would have made collective bargaining a right.

And when they aren’t coughing up incredible amounts of rhetoric, labor allies are spinning conspiracy theories. At Snyder’s press conference on Thursday, several questions were asked about the involvement of businessman Richard DeVos. Whether it’s playing a game of six degrees of Kevin Bacon or arguing that DeVos is both a flip-flopper and a powerful deep-pocketed boogeyman, union members and some reporters are overcome with paranoia. Protestors even targeted the hotel bearing the name of his company, and chanted that he would “take your rights” and “hurt our families.”

Although they make a lot of noise, labor and its allies don’t make much sense. Collective bargaining will still exist for those who want to remain members of a union or who want to certify a union. But for those who would rather not be members, they will finally have the freedom to leave, with no strings (read: agency fees) attached.

But that’s not the type of accountability labor leaders want to be responsible for. As Vincent Vernuccio of the Mackinac Center points out in USA Today:

[U]nion leaders will have to earn the trust of their members. In fact, right-to-work will not do anything to collective bargaining besides taking away unions’ ability to get workers fired who do not pay them. That’s as it should be: These reforms return labor to its best traditions of voluntarism and responsiveness to worker needs. By making unions consistently earn member support, right-to-work laws realign the interests of all workers and their leadership.

Meanwhile, Michigan legislators have other big plans to consider—for the disintegrating city of Detroit. The Detroit News reports:

Even as the state Treasury prepares to begin another financial review of Detroit’s books, a plan is being solidified in the governor’s office that would guide Michigan’s largest city through what is being called a managed bankruptcy.


The case would be filed under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code, according to two ranking sources familiar with the situation, following efforts to reach prenegotiated settlements with as many key creditors — unions, vendors and pension funds among them — as possible before any filing.

There’s a reason why Detroit considers unions, and their pension funds, among their top creditors—labor has helped bury the city in debt.

The country has come to learn that the assumption that labor unions are an absolute good is a faulty one. The legislation in Michigan, like Indiana before it, is a reflection of that reality.

Categories: Center for Union FactsUAW