The idea of being a “right-to-work” state is certainly not new. Almost half the states (24 of 50) in the Union have such laws. It is different in the Midwest, though. Home to a majority of the so-called “rust belt” states, unionization is something different here… a way of life for many. From steel mills to auto factories to shipping ports and so many industries in-between, unions are everywhere. Could that be changing now though? Will right-to-work kill the unions who helped build this region and our country?
The right-to-work legislation that passed in Michigan and Indiana makes it illegal to require union dues payment in order to secure or keep a job. For example, a section of the Michigan right-to-work law passed in December and effective last month is highlighted below:
AN INDIVIDUAL SHALL NOT BE REQUIRED AS A CONDITION OF OBTAINING OR CONTINUING EMPLOYMENT TO DO ANY OF THE FOLLOWING:
- (A) REFRAIN OR RESIGN FROM MEMBERSHIP IN, VOLUNTARY AFFILIATION WITH, OR VOLUNTARY FINANCIAL SUPPORT OF A LABOR ORGANIZATION.
- (B) BECOME OR REMAIN A MEMBER OF A LABOR ORGANIZATION.
- (C) PAY ANY DUES, FEES, ASSESSMENTS, OR OTHER CHARGES OR EXPENSES OF ANY KIND OR AMOUNT OR PROVIDE ANYTHING OF VALUE TO A LABOR ORGANIZATION.
- (D) PAY TO ANY CHARITABLE ORGANIZATION OR THIRD PARTY AN AMOUNT THAT IS IN LIEU OF, EQUIVALENT TO, OR ANY PORTION OF DUES, FEES, ASSESSMENTS, OR OTHER CHARGES OR EXPENSES REQUIRED OF MEMBERS OF OR EMPLOYEES REPRESENTED BY A LABOR ORGANIZATIONAN AGREEMENT, CONTRACT, UNDERSTANDING, OR PRACTICE BETWEEN OR INVOLVING AN EMPLOYER AND A LABOR ORGANIZATION THAT VIOLATES SUBSECTION (1) IS UNLAWFUL AND UNENFORCEABLE.
The impact of right-to-work varies depending on who you listen to. Those on the business end, such as chambers of commerce, tend to say right-to-work will only help the economies of the states which adopted them. Union officials and those supporting them of course have a different take on legislation saying that the legislation by itself will not draw in many new companies and/or jobs to the states that adopt it.
The impact on Michigan jobs cannot be measured after only a few months of this measure being signed into law and a three weeks after taking effect. In Indiana, private sector job growth rose throughout 2012 to a tune of 3.4 percent, .7 of a percent higher than the national average. However, unemployment also rose. While the national average was 8.2 percent, Indiana was .4 higher at 8.6 percent. In reality, those numbers can mean a lot of different things and its irresponsible to pin one or the other solely on the passage of right-to-work legislation.
In truth, right-to-work legislation may be more symbolic than anything. While many think of Michigan (and other Midwestern states) as a union stronghold, only 17.5 percent of workers (about 671,100) are union members, down from 40 percent in the 1970s. At its heart, right-to-work could be construed as a political power play. Unions, by in large, tend to be strong backers of Democratic candidates, meaning the dues that all members pay, regardless of political affiliation, go towards candidates with the D listed next to their name in November. This does not sit well with all union members of course.
Republicans in Indiana used their overwhelming majority in the Legislature to pass the legislation in 2012 by arguing that it would give the state an additional advantage (besides tax rates) over Illinois and Ohio for any start-up or expanding businesses in the region. The unspoken added benefit is that it may end up changing how unions do business in Indiana and Michigan.
In order for unions to continue surviving in Indiana and Michigan, they will need to change how they appeal to workers. Now that a person is no longer required to pay union dues in order to receive union benefits, some incentive will have to be devised. If not, its possible that we could see unions erode steadily in both states.
After all, why pay for something you can get for free? This will certainly be interesting to watch, especially in Michigan, as the legislative impact will only continue to grow as time passes