Following in the footsteps of more than 20 states across America, Michigan's Republican-controlled legislature has moved to protect the "right to work" in The Wolverine State. "Right to work" (RTW) laws restrict the ability of unions to collect involuntary fees from employees as a condition of work. Unions argue that RTW laws trample worker rights at the altar of big business, but this narrative is simply untrue. The reality is that RTW states are fairer and freer. Employment decisions should be made on the basis of a candidate's character and skills, and not on someone being forced into entering a protection racket. Michigan residents — and people of all states — should be able to get jobs without having to fork over money to a union that has seized control of a given industry.
The RTW effort in Michigan was unexpected. Until now, conventional wisdom has held that the state was an untouchable union stronghold, dominated as it's been for decades by the U.S. auto industry. But as The Detroit Free Press' Tom Walsh has pointed out, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder now appears to have lost patience with union obstructionism.
Unions are eager to frame this latest showdown as an ideological battle of rights and wrongs. But their claims of righteousness are bogus. After all, if union-brokered collective bargaining is so beneficial, why don't all employees who have a choice willingly agree to sign up when they start a job? The answer is obvious: Not everyone believes that it's beneficial to have a union to negotiate for them. Unions have to force compliance. Of course, we conservatives believe that at the margin, individuals know how to spend their own money more effectively than others know how to spend it for them. Unions, on the other hand, claim to know what's best for everyone. But they don't.
Collective bargaining states offer higher average compensation than RTW states — a fact unions trumpet as proof that RTW is bad for workers. However, wages in collective bargaining states are rendered meaningless by higher living costs and lower manufacturing related economic growth. Collective bargaining states also traditionally suffer from higher unemployment. In ever increasing numbers, companies are deciding to establish or relocate in RTW states. As capital becomes ever more moveable, this trend will accelerate, and jobs will increasingly flow to the place of best returns — states where companies can achieve lower costs, increased productivity, and greater profits. Unions don't protect jobs, they lose them.
But what of the moral argument? AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka likes to claim that unions are a moral agency for the American people. That was certainly once true. However, as a motivating concern today, the pursuit of social justice has been relegated into irrelevance. Instead, unions often exist to fulfill one basic mission: Maximize short-term gains for their members. But this goal is expensive, and is at war both with economic reality and social unity. It bankrupts states and businesses, denies jobs and services to the economically deprived, and uses children as economic pawns. Many of today's unions live in a realm of destructive delusion. By pursuing agendas that lay waste to the aspirations of those outside their organizations, unions do not assert the interests of the people — they inhibit them.
Today's unions are neither allies of the poor nor agents of the middle class. They care about enriching their members, not social justice or economic stability. In challenging their damaging power, we conservatives can offer voters a more economically just alternative. Further, by focusing on the three finest tenets of conservative ideology — individual freedom, fair dealing, and positive reforms to boost employment and economic growth — we can re-connect conservatism with the American people.
Tom Rogan is a conservative writer who blogs at TomRoganThinks.com.