Opinion: Editorials

Examiner Editorial: Michigan's fight to be competitive again

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Opinion,Editorial

A group of just 600 clerical workers with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on Wednesday signed a new contract with the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. But before that agreement was reached, the ILWU inflicted an eight-day strike that cost the California economy $1 billion a day and took paychecks away from 1.2 million other Californians.

"Anyone connected with the shipping chain is not drawing a paycheck today, because of the actions of some of the highest-paid clerical workers in America," Steve Getzug, a spokesman for the Harbor Employers Association, told the Los Angeles Times.

If you were starting a new business or opening a new factory, would you want to do it in a state that was so susceptible to such catastrophic labor disruptions? Not a chance.

That is why Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder threw his support behind new state House and Senate legislation that would give workers the freedom not to join a union if they so choose. "For us to succeed, we have to remain competitive. That's why I believe we should make Michigan a freedom-to-work state," Snyder said.

Twenty-three other states already have right-to-work laws on the books, including neighboring Indiana, which has been stealing jobs from Michigan ever since its freedom-to-work legislation passed last February. And research shows that states with right-to-work laws employ one-fifth more manufacturing workers than states without them.

It is important to note that Michigan's new law doesn't end the right of workers to bargain. The First Amendment of the Constitution clearly protects every citizen's freedom of association. What the legislation does is make it illegal for employers to fire workers if they refuse to join a union. Workers should not be forced to hand over a portion of their paycheck to union leaders.

After peaking at 35.5 percent in 1945, the percentage of workers in unions has fallen steadily as the U.S. economy has modernized and been exposed to more international competition. Today, just 11.8 percent of all workers are unionized, including just 6.9 percent in the private sector.

The fall of Big Labor is no secret: Unions are bad for business. Research shows that unionized firms spend 15 percent less on research and development and 6 percent less on capital investments than nonunionized firms. Businesses that can't reinvest profits back into the company because they pay a union wage premium cannot compete against nonunion firms.

As a result, between 1977 and 2008, unionized manufacturing jobs fell by 75 percent. Nonunion manufacturing employment actually increased by 6 percent over that same period.

Hence the effort to make Michigan a right-to-work state. Michigan entered a one-state recession long before the rest of America suffered in the financial crisis of 2009. Michiganders are rightfully tired of it. They want to be part of the United States' right-to-work future. To get there, they need to stand arm-in-arm with their legislators against union efforts to kill the legislation. Already pro-union demonstrators have occupied the state capitol, and police have had to use pepper spray to keep them out of the Senate chamber. Hopefully Michigan legislators will not be cowed by such tactics.

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