Agitated that other priorities have taken center stage in the early days of the Democratic-controlled Legislature, labor leaders convinced the state House to take up measures this week to repeal the state’s 10-year-old Right to Work law.
But in their zeal to restore the power traditional labor unions held in Michigan for around a half century, Democrats could be willingly walking into a longer-term battle with the well-funded business community that they’ll likely not win.
If Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs legislation repealing Right to Work, a briefing memo circulating among business interests reveals a plan to take the issue to a constitutional amendment proposal for 2024.
Back in 2012, then-Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation stopping the ability for a labor union to require fellow employees to join their ranks or pay a fee to cover the costs of the services they provide.
Right to Work in theory gave workers in a union shop the choice of joining the bargaining unit or not. If a worker didn’t want to join, he or she still was able to take advantage of the same deal the union negotiated for the shop’s other workers.
If the union successfully bargains for a $2-an-hour raise and better health benefits, even a non-union member member receives them.
Among those in organized labor, Right to Work was Right to Freeload.
Looking back, Right to Work has not been the end of organized labor in Michigan. Membership among some locals is up. As a whole, though, membership levels are going down.
The symbolism of passing Right To Work hurt more than the law itself. It showed unions didn’t run Michigan anymore. Not even close. Republicans’ passing RTW was like shoving that reality into the unions’ collective face.
RTW’s passing in the home state of the auto industry and organized labor was, in a word, humiliating.
When Democrats won control of the House, Senate and the Governor’s Office in 2022 for the first time in 40 years, the UAW and their friends could only see payback.
The unions want Right to Work repealed before the spring recess, and there’s no reason a bill making that happen won’t pass.
Not a single Democrat will vote against these bills. Whitmer will sign them. When she does, the union leadership will feel pretty good ... for a little while.
Until Dick DeVos and business leaders within the West Michigan Policy Forum fire up their next ballot proposal drive — a constitutional amendment to lock Right to Work into the Constitution.
These business groups learned a thing or two from the prior signature collection efforts. They will pay to get the signatures needed to get this on the ballot for November 2024.
Once it’s on the ballot, the betting money is on it passing.
First, in 2012, labor unions tried a ballot proposal that made collective bargaining with a union a constitutional right. It essentially banned Right to Work laws in Michigan. It failed 57% to 43%.
The polling on Right to Work is strong. A January survey of 1,026 Michigan voters found support for Right to Work at 60%. Opposition came back at 17%. The final 22.7% had no opinion. Among union households, Right to Work was supported 54.5% to 28%.
Tennessee is a much different state than Michigan, but when a RTW constitutional amendment was put on the ballot in the Volunteer State last November, it passed 70% to 30%.
It’s much too early to know if RTW could be used as a tool to drive conservative voters to turn out in 2024, but if it is, the Democrats’ House majority may meet the same fate as the law it’s passing.
In short, unions want RTW repealed. I understand their passion behind it.
They just better be careful what they wish for. The win likely will be short-lived.
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