Michigan weakens unions

Gov. Rick Snyder signed sweeping “right-to-work” legislation.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder this week signed sweeping “right-to-work” legislation making his traditionally pro-union state the 24th in the nation to ban requirements that a worker pay union dues as a condition of employment. Thousands of union members demonstrated outside the state Capitol in Lansing as the Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed the laws, which cover all private and public employees except police and firefighters. In signing the laws, Snyder said they promoted “workplace fairness and equality.” Union members vowed to fight on. “We’re going to have a civil war,” said Teamsters President James P. Hoffa.

How fitting that the “era of industrial unionization may be coming to a symbolic end in the same place it started,” said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. Michigan, with its auto industry, is to unions “what Florida is to sand,” and for right-to-work laws to be passed there shows how drastically the power of unions has diminished. There’s no mystery why, either. Snyder, “a Republican reformer but not a bomb thrower,” says he has watched 90 companies move into neighboring Indiana since it passed right-to-work laws earlier this year. “The union movement is getting undone by simple economic realities.”

This isn’t about jobs, it’s about politics, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. “As much as Republicans detest unions as economic actors, they hate them far more as political actors.” Unions organize their members to vote for the Democrats, so when the GOP gets control of a state, it seeks to crush unions as “one of the largest bastions of support for the opposing party.”

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But it’s workers that get hurt, said Harold Meyerson in The Washington Post.Studies show that right-to-work laws do not lead to higher employment rates; instead, they simply result in lower wages, as workers lose leverage to demand raises. Today only 7 percent of private-sector workers are unionized, which is why the gap between the incomes of owners and workers is larger than at any time since the New Deal. “Right-to-work laws simply redistribute income from workers to owners.”

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