Both houses of the Michigan Legislature just pushed through legislation that will make Michigan a “right to work” state once Governor Rick Snyder signs the bill into law later this week as promised. This follows on the heels of similar efforts across the country in the last year that largely failed but were at least partially successful in Indiana and Wisconsin.
Right to work initiatives are Orwellian in that they purport to promote employee freedom while effectively restricting employee freedom of association and, ultimately, freedom of expression in the workplace as those laws limit the resources available to unions. Empirical and anecdotal evidence regarding the impact of right to work initiatives across the country, which we recently analyzed, confirms that such laws are bad for employees, bad for the workplace, and bad for business. The data show that right to work laws undermine workplace safety, employment opportunity, and workplace democracy by inducing a proverbial race to the bottom in which only a privileged few are winners.
It is important to grasp the full context of this nationally coordinated effort to attack the very existence of unions as voices for employees in the workplace and for underrepresented constituencies in the larger society. The assault on unions, especially public employees who are unionized, is occurring at the same time as the attack on all things public: public education, public services, public representation, public space, and the overarching public interest. This is not coincidental. Powerful and well funded corporate interests, through the American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”) and similar “charitable” organizations, are pursuing a policy agenda that aims to privatize and otherwise prioritize profits over people. As one of the few institutions that historically have put the public interest over private interest, unions stand in the way of that agenda. For many reasons, then, right to work is a ripoff.