Will Anti-Right to Work Proposal 2 Backfire on Big Labor in Michigan?

Forget Republicans: Unions could destroy Democrats again (Susan J. Demas column)

United Autoworkers czar Bob King (shown here with President Barack Obama) and other union bosses intended through Proposal 2 to make it impossible for Michigan's elected officials to adopt a Right to Work law or restrict Big Labor's monopoly privileges in any other way. But Michigan voters don't appear inclined to cooperate with the union hierarchy's scheme. Photo: Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Press/Getty Images

As recently as 1980, a candidate for U.S. President could carry every single Right to Work state and still amass just 173 electoral votes, or nearly 100 fewer than the 270 needed to secure the nation’s highest office.  But this year, a presidential candidate sweeping the Right to Work states alone would already possess 86% of the electoral votes for a victory, and would have to cull fewer than 40 more from forced-unionism states to prevail.

Part of the reason for Right to Work state citizens’ growing clout in national politics is the adoption of Right to Work laws in Idaho, Oklahoma and Indiana since 1980. But the most important reason is the massive, ongoing out-migration of employees and employers from states lacking Right to Work laws to states that have them. One powerful indicator of this population trend is that, from 2000-2011, the number of Right to Work state residents aged 25-34 grew by 11.2%, compared to a paltry increase of just 0.7% in forced-unionism states.  (Since Indiana did not adopt its Right to Work law until this year, it is counted as a forced-unionism state in this analysis and in those that follow.)

Fed up with losing talented and conscientious employees to Right to Work states, more and more legislators in several of the remaining forced-unionism states, including Michigan, are now openly saying, “If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em.”  This has top union bosses alarmed.  They are determined to stop the spread of Right to Work laws that greatly diminish their coercive power over employees.

In Michigan, United Autoworkers (UAW) union chief Bob King opted earlier this year to mount a novel preemptive strike against Right to Work.  Joined by a host of other union officials, the UAW brass concocted and got on this November’s ballot Proposal 2, an initiative that, if approved, would make it impossible for Michigan’s elected officials to adopt a Right to Work law or restrict Big Labor’s monopoly privileges in any other way.  Proposal 2 would render Right to Work or any other curtailment of “exclusive” union bargaining unconstitutional.

Unfortunately for Big Labor, it appears the people of Michigan actually support rolling back union bosses’ special privileges and have no inclination to prohibit their elected officials from doing so.  Proposal 2 is now widely expected to be defeated next month.  (See the link above for one dyspeptic account by a forced-unionism partisan about the status of the initiative.)

Assuming the pundits are right and Proposal 2 does go down, the question is how Michigan GOP Gov. Rick Snyder will react.  Until recently, Snyder has sought to appease Big Labor by publicly stating again and again that he opposed consideration of Right to Work legislation in Lansing.  However, after the union hierarchy moved ahead with Proposal 2 over Snyder’s objections, he suggested his stance could change.

The fact is, polls have long shown that the majority of Michigan citizens favor giving the individual employee’s freedom not to join a union just as much protection under the law as the freedom to join already enjoys.  And a wide array of economic data suggest Right to Work would likely benefit employees.  For example, from 2001-2011, total private-sector employment as measured by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) increased by 6.8% in Midwestern Right to Work states as a group, but fell by 0.4% in Midwestern forced-unionism states collectively and declined by 5.9% in Michigan alone.   Over the same period, inflation-adjusted BEA data show private-sector compensation (including wages, salaries, benefits and bonuses) increased by 13.0% in Midwestern Right to Work states, compared to an aggregate Midwestern forced-unionism state decline of 2.7% and a decline of 16.5% in Michigan alone.

In view of such data, union officials’ shrill claims that a Michigan Right to Work law would hurt employees’ pocketbooks lack credibility, to put it very mildly.  The question is whether Gov. Snyder and other GOP politicians will be willing to ignore their bluster and take advantage of Proposal 2’s likely defeat to push for elimination of Big Labor’s compulsory-union-dues privileges.