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Gov. Snyder and Right-to-Work

Posted by Peter Brian Barry on

Peter Brian Barry

Peter Brian Barry

This has been a tough week for Governor Snyder's apologists. A Republican legislature crammed a series of bills though procedure in a lame-duck session that would have no chance of making it to the Governor's desk a month from now.

Michigan earned nationwide attention as it promises to be the 24th state to adopt "right-to-work" legislation, even after three years of promises to the contrary. Indeed, we were told that "Michigan will not be Wisconsin."

And while this is familiar news by now, all of this happened absent any public hearings and was accompanied by an attempt to clear the Capitol building. And, my lawyer friends tell me, because the bill includes an appropriation, it cannot be amended by referendum.

Reasonable people can disagree about the value of unions, but let's agree that this isn't how democracy is supposed to function. This would all be a sad enough state of affairs, but the Governor's desire to spin is proving to be irresistible.

We are now being told that right-to-work legislation is good for public sector workers, good for unions, and good for the state economy; at least, this is the line that Governor Snyder was taking over the weekend in an interview series with Fox News.

It's hard to know where these bold assertions come from. A widely discussed report from the Economic Policy Institute contends that right-to-work laws do not boost job growth in states that adopt them, and that they lower wages and reduce benefits for both union and non-union workers.

According to census data from 2010, of the ten states with the highest per capita income, only one is a right-to work state. Of the ten states with the lowest per capita income, seven were right-to-work and include economic powerhouses like Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Snyder gestures at Indiana as an example of a right-to-state that is pulling potential jobs away from Michigan. But the evidence for this is scant and some states, like Oklahoma, saw their manufacturing sector shrink dramatically.

To be sure, things are complicated here and it would be naïve to think that any one factor explains complicated macroeconomic events, but that means that there is little reason for thinking that the fate of Michigan's economy is pinned to right-to-work legislation.

Here is one thing we do know: right-to-work legislation hurts unions. Right-to-work legislation typically 1) makes closed shops illegal, but 2) requires unions to represent and protect every eligible employee, whether they pay dues or not.

No surprise, then, that right-to-work legislation spawns a host of free riders who benefit from union efforts on their behalf without bearing the costs. And union participation did drop in states like Idaho and Oklahoma post-adoption of right-to-work legislation.

Governor Walker of Wisconsin at least has the decency to wear his distaste for unions on his sleeve: he has used terms like "virus" and "thugs" in his public statements. As for me, that sort of candor is more welcome than broken promises and deception.

Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Andy Rapp, Q-TV, Delta College, or PBS.


Currently Speaking host Andy Rapp

Veteran journalist Andy Rapp has been hosting Currently Speaking since 1999.

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