Michigan made history recently when it became the first state to repeal a Right to Work law since 1965. Right to Work laws, which were authorized by Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act, protect workers in Right to Work states from being required to pay union dues or join a union as a condition of employment. Right to Work laws thus restore the fundamental American principle to labor policy that individuals should not be forced to support a private organization against their will. The majority of American workers support Right to Work because they want to choose for themselves whether or not to have a union represent them at the bargaining table.
For example, Michigander Mike Williams, a paraprofessional for a vocational training program, resigned his position as a vice president of his union because he realized his coworkers would be better off negotiating their own contracts with their employer. Michigan auto worker Terry Bowman summed up the case against compulsory unionism thusly, “it just wasn’t right that I was forced to pay an outside organization my hard-earned money in order to work.”
Right to Work does more than protect workers’ right to choose whether or not to join a union or pay union dues. By limiting the ability of union bosses to create divisions between labor and management, as well as to impose counterproductive rules on the workforce that reduce company flexibility, Right to Work benefits workers.
Of course, union officials and their allies claim Right to Work laws reduce wages. The unions’ case depends on ignoring the cost of living, which is consistently lower in Right to Work states. Therefore, workers in Right to Work states may make a lower nominal wage, but their wages have more buying power than those of workers in states with compulsory unionism. Workers in Right to Work states not only have the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union, they also enjoy a higher standard of living.
This is certainly true in Michigan’s case. The average income of Michiganders grew by an inflation-adjusted (commonly referred to as “real” wages) average of 0.6 percent in the nine years before Michigan became a Right to Work state, while real wages rose by 21.9 percent in the nine years after Michigan became a Right to Work state. Michigan workers are not just earning more, there are more of them. Unemployment averaged 8.5 percent in the decade before the passage of Michigan’s Right to Work law. In the nine years following Right to Work’s passage unemployment averaged 6.0 percent. The growth in jobs and incomes may explain that while Michigan’s population declined by 120,401 people in the nine years before the passage of Right to Work law, 130,060 people moved to Michigan in the nine years after Right to Work passed!
These new Michiganders may have moved in hopes of getting one of the 155,100 new jobs created in Michigan in the nine years after Michigan became a Right to Work state, as opposed to the nine years before Right to Work came to the Great Lakes when the state lost 379,400 jobs. Moreover, in the approximately seven years after Michigan became a Right to Work state, Michigan added 404,400 jobs. This suggests these statistics would be even more impressive if Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer had not imposed one of, if not the, strictest COVID lockdowns in the nation,
So, if the right to work is so beneficial to workers, why did this Michigan Democrat, majority legislator, and Democratic governor want to repeal it? It’s not because the people of Michigan favored repealing the law. Polls show the majority of Michiganders support Right to Work—including 60 percent of union households. Aren’t Democrats the party of workers? While that is the image they try to project, the reality is the Democrats are the party for union bosses. Union bosses have long used the forced dues for workers (not all of whom share the Democrats’ agenda) and used them to fund a political machine that remains one of the Democratic Party’s main sources of money and “volunteers.”
Unions are once again in vogue on the left, thanks in part to Bernie Sander’s 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns. This provides new incentives for Democratic politicians to pander to union officials and left wing activists by attacking Right to Work. Hopefully, those politicians who place the interests of their union boss cronies ahead of their working-class constituents will pay a political price that will serve as an important lesson to legislators in other states, and will lead to the swift return of worker freedom to the Great Lakes.