Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.
This past week, Michigan became the 24th “right-to-work” state in the Union when its Republican governor signed two anti-union bills into law. Predictably, this set off a massive round of protests as over 12,000 pro-union individuals demonstrated against this law, the governor, and state’s Republican legislature. Despite the large size of these protests, I am pretty confident Michigan’s Republican leadership will neither change their mind or this law. The reason for their confidence is pretty simple: they were voted in because voters believed, among other things, that these leaders would improve the state’s economy and the Republican legislature believes this cannot happen without a very limited union presence.
Some have argued that the voters were not aware of the governor’s plans as he had refused to take sides during the elections and sidestepped questions about his plans regarding the state’s unions. Anyone who buys this excuse needs to find a new line of work because there was literally zero chance that a pro-business Republican would enter the governor’s mansion and not fall lock-step in with the Republican legislature whose mission is always to dilute union power. In that sense, the governor and the legislature are doing exactly what they promised the voters. Protesting against the governor for doing what he said he would do is akin to conservatives complaining that President Obama spends too much time outside Washington talking to regular citizens even through the president said that is what he was going to do during the elections.
The only thing that makes this legislation surprising is that it was implemented in Michigan where unions have traditionally courted and held a lot of influence. Indeed, Michigan is just the second state in the mid-western manufacturing belt to pass this kind of legislation i.e. one that bans requirements that those represented by union pay union dues. Clearly, the intention of these legislatures is to not just turn unions into useless entities but also into non-profit organizations – which is pretty much the same thing.
Unions need to realize that while they have affected a lot of positive change in the American workforce, their image has taken a beating in recent years and that, in times of economic distress, theirs is not a saleable message. Plus, Michigan has been in the economic doldrums for too long and its voters will support anyone who promises a new direction. Assurances of protests against or the recall of elected officials will never work because voters – in most regions of the country but particularly in distressed states such as Michigan – will give their representatives the opportunity to complete their terms in order to see if their plans bear any fruit. The proper – and democratic – action would be to work to regain control of the legislature and the governor’s office. To do this, the unions need to lay low but that may be too much to ask.