Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has a historic chance to radically change his state's economy and revive dying cities like Detroit by making the Great Lakes State the 24th to adopt right-to-work laws. He should seize the opportunity and sign the state legislature's recently passed bill. In fact, he should do it today.
The legislature's speed in passing the bills last week surprised almost everyone. They evidently learned from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's ordeal that the longer these battles draw out, the more Big Labor and its allies can intimidate lawmakers through protests and threats of retribution.
The union protestors are doing it again, and they should be ignored. New jobs are desperately needed in Michigan, and nothing tried in the last 10 years has worked.
A right-to-work law will work. It will send a message that businesses don't have to succumb to the archaic labor laws that have nearly destroyed (and may yet destroy) the state's auto industry. Despite its incredible natural beauty, Michigan was the only state to lose population between 2000 and 2010, thanks to the one-state recession it has now suffered for nearly a decade. Its unemployment rate today stands at 9.1 percent, well above the national average, and that number actually looks a lot better than the underlying reality because so many residents have moved away.
President Obama attacked right-to-work yesterday as being just about "politics." That's true enough in one respect: Democrats depend on unionists to be their foot soldiers on Election Day. What you rarely hear critics talk about is what right-to-work laws actually do. They give employees the opportunity to decide whether they want to pay union dues. Right-to-work laws don't prevent collective bargaining. They just ensure that collective bargaining is really that -- bargaining that goes on with the consent of those represented.
Only 17 percent of Michigan workers are currently unionized. Those workers should not have the right to force other workers to join unions. Big Labor can hardly argue directly for coercion, so instead unions and their allies bluster and obfuscate just as Obama did yesterday.
But what exactly have the unions done for long-suffering Michigan? Its decline has followed that of its auto industry, which is chronically uncompetitive compared with both foreign companies and right-to-work states that host auto manufacturers, such as Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama.
The theory behind forcing workers to pay union dues is that they all benefit from collective bargaining so the unions should be compensated. That is why 32,000 nonunion workers in Michigan are forced to pay union dues as a condition of their employment.
But do they really benefit? For example, when the Obama administration bailed out Detroit, the autoworkers union made sure to spare its current members the pain of the auto bankruptcies by creating a two-tier compensation system. As a result, new hires at GM and Chrysler must pay dues to an organization that arranged for them to be paid about half as much as their long-standing co-workers. These second-tier workers have no hope of ever making as much as their first-tier peers, and they also get smaller retirement and medical benefits and shorter vacations.
If the governor signs the right-to-work law, workers in Michigan will still have the right to bargain collectively. But it will also mean that those new autoworkers will have an opportunity to express their feelings about the union that threw them under the bus before they were even hired. Thousands of other reluctant union dues-payers will have the same opportunity to choose for themselves. The unions are terrified of this -- as well they should be.