Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) yesterday backtracked on his previous assertion that a union-busting move to pass a so-called “right-to-work” provision into law wasn’t on his agenda, and by the end of the day, both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan state Senate had introduced and passed separate pieces of legislation aimed at the state’s union workforce.
Michigan Republicans are pursuing the laws because Indiana Republicans passed “right-to-work” last year and, according to Snyder, the state needs such a law to remain competitive. In reality, though, such laws have negative effects on workers and little effect on economic growth, and Michigan Republicans are pursuing the laws without public debate:
The legislation: Both the state House and state Senate passed legislation yesterday that prohibits private sector unions from requiring members to pay dues. The Senate followed by immediately passing a law that extends the same prohibition for public sector unions, though firefighters and police officers are exempt. The state House included a budget appropriations measure that is intended to prevent the state’s voters from being able to legally challenge the law through a ballot referendum. Due to state law, both houses are prevented from voting on legislation passed by the other for five days, so neither will be able to fully pass the legislation until Tuesday at the earliest.
The process: Union leaders and Democrats claim that Republicans are pushing the legislation through in the lame-duck session to hide the intent of the measures from citizens, and because the legislation would face more trouble after the new House convenes in January. Michigan Republicans hold a 63-47 advantage in the state House, but Democrats narrowed the GOP majority to just eight seats in November. Six Republicans opposed the House measure; five of them won re-election in 2012 (the sixth retired). And Michigan Republicans have good reason to pursue the laws without public debate. Though the state’s voters are evenly split on whether it should become a right-to-work state, 78 percent of voters said the legislature “should focus on issues like creating jobs and improving education, and not changing state laws or rules that would impact unions or make further changes in collective bargaining.”
The effect: While Snyder and Republicans pitched “right-to-work” as a pro-worker move aimed at improving the economy, studies show such legislation can cost workers money. The Economic Policy Institute found that right-to-work laws cost all workers, union and otherwise, $1,500 a year in wages and that they make it harder for workers to obtain pensions and health coverage. “If benefits coverage in non-right-to-work states were lowered to the levels of states with these laws, 2 million fewer workers would receive health insurance and 3.8 million fewer workers would receive pensions nationwide,” David Madland and Karla Walter from the Center for American Progress wrote earlier this year. And right-to-work laws and the drop in union membership that follows have a significant impact on the middle class. Multiple studies, meanwhile, show that such laws have a negligible impact on economic growth. “Research shows that there is no relationship between right-to-work laws and state unemployment rates, state per capita income, or state job growth,” EPI wrote in a recent report about Michigan. And “right-to-work” laws alsodecrease worker safety and can hurt small businesses.
Union leaders are, of course, aghast at Snyder and the GOP’s right-to-work push.