December 14, 2012

Ah, Michigan. The home of cars, tart cherries, blueberries, the Sleeping Bear dunes, the dying city of Detroit and Unions!

Tuesday Morning the Michigan State Legislature froze hell over, made pigs fly and made Jimmy Hoffa turn over in his grave. The House and Senate there voted to become the nation’s 24th right-to-work state is nothing short of preposterous. In a good way, of course.

Framed as “freedom-to-work” legislation, Michigan’s version of right to work is similar to that in other states. It protects workers from forced unionization and will mean employees cannot be fired from their jobs simply because they don’t want to join a union or decline to pay union dues.

More importantly, the new law will prohibit public and private employers from automatically withholding dues from employee paychecks to fill the coffers of the unions. Instead, employees will get to make the proactive decision to belong to a union and pay dues and other fees directly.

Governor Rick Snyder signed the bill into law in less than 24 hours after it passage. By the end of today, Michigan’s “One Tough Nerd” (Google it) will have unassumingly loosened the labor movement’s clutches on the hard-working and desperate citizens of this great state.

That freedom to work will be good for the Mitten State is obvious (probably even to the 17.5 percent of unionized Michigan employees). According to the Mackinac Center, a conservative think tank, becoming a right-to-work state will attract younger workers. (Michigan notoriously hemorrhages young people.)

Mackinac.org says “Between 2000 and 2011, right-to-work states have seen an increase of 11.3 percent in the number of residents between the ages of 25-34, according to the Bureau of the Census. Non-right-to-work states, over that same period of time, have seen an increase of only 0.6 percent.”

In addition, other states where right-to-work laws have been enacted have seen increased wages, lower unemployment and renewed vigor in the business community as employers find fewer hurdles in setting up shop or expanding their businesses.

Obviously, labor unions want those outcomes, right? After all, they seek to protect workers — that’s their whole reason for being.

Again with the jocularity. I just can’t help it.

No, in fact, some 13,000 protesters showed up in Lansing on Tuesday to express their displeasure with the pending legislation (and by “displeasure,” I mean “violent, vulgarity-strewn, threatening intimidation”).

Spurred on by the words of state Rep. Douglas A. Geiss, a Democrat who said on the House floor that the new law would “undo 100 years of labor relations. And there will be blood. We will relive the Battle of the Overpass” (referring to the famous 1937 standoff between the UAW and Ford Motor Co.), protesters on the capital lawn tore down a tent belonging to Americans for Prosperity.

Kind of a scary moment for the AFP volunteers who stood beneath it.

But violence and intimidation no longer work to bolster union support, even here, in this bastion of “unionism.”

To understand why their fear-mongering is failing, just follow the money. While unions still collect millions of dollars in Michigan, the Mackinac Center reveals some locals spend exactly zero on “representation” expenses, this according to filings required by the National Labor Relations Board.

Consider as well that Michigan teachers — whom the Michigan Education Association claims are woefully underpaid — pay as much as $635 per year in dues. That doesn’t include optional fees for political activism, plus dues to national and local affiliates.

When the state no longer requires unionization for employment and no longer permits withholding of dues (or “representation fees” for nonmembers), watch how quickly employees realize the “Freedom to Work” means freedom to keep their hard-earned money.

If unions are so crucial, they must prove themselves to the folks who have been forced to support them for so long. Meanwhile, the rest of Michiganders should shake off the shackles and see what happens to our downtrodden state economy.

Conservative groups are vowing to follow up on their stunning success in passing a right-to-work law in Michigan with efforts to do the same in other states. But don’t expect the next domino to fall anytime soon.

Unions have enough support for now from moderate Republicans in GOP-controlled states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania to block right-to-work legislation. States such as Missouri and Montana, which have legislatures friendly to right-to-work, have Democratic governors who pledge to veto any such law. All of those states are likely prospects for reform at some point in the future, but not now.

What is clear is that, for the first time in decades, unions are on the political defense at the state level, and nationally their attempts to expand their power have not met with success in Congress. That’s why an important part of the battle will be fought in the coming months over President Barack Obama’s ambitious agenda to use federal regulatory powers to give unions what they want.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.