Michigan Must Preserve the Freedom to Work | Citizens Against Government Waste

Michigan Must Preserve the Freedom to Work

The WasteWatcher

There are 27 states with right to work laws, which means anyone in the state can work without being required to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment.  Michigan became the 24th of the 27 states to have such a law on March 23, 2013.  But the newly elected Democratic majorities in the Michigan House and Senate hope to take the state off of that list.

At the start of the state’s legislative session, lawmakers introduced legislation intended to repeal Michigan’s existing right to work protections.  If passed, these bills will remove the ability of workers to decide for themselves if they want to join a union or pay union dues and fees.

Opponents of right-to-work laws contend that these laws hurt workers.  This argument falls flat for two reasons.  First, it relies on the assumption that the right-to-work means workers will never choose to join a union.  In reality, under right-to-work laws, workers remain free to choose to join a union or pay dues if they feel that it fits their needs.  Second, this argument belittles the intelligence of workers and assumes that they can’t make decisions for themselves or act in their own best interests.  Requiring workers to join a union as a condition of their employment takes no consideration of their needs and circumstances.  Instead, it allows a union to decide what workers need, whether it is in their best interests, and without regard to the employee’s individual circumstances or desires.  Moreover, compulsory union membership allows unions to force workers to contribute part of their paycheck to causes they may not support. 

In the nine years since Michigan became a right-to-work state, there has been a 6.4 percent increase in manufacturing jobs.  This increase in jobs follows similar trends in other right-to-work states.  According to a November 16, 2021, Harvard study, states with right-to-work laws “have seen higher population growth,” while experiencing no decline in wage and labor compensation.  In addition, the study found that right-to-work laws have been associated with lower childhood poverty rates and increased upward mobility.

As Citizens Against Government Waste has previously noted, restrictions on the right-to-work extend beyond workplace protections.  In states where workers are forced to join a union, labor influences make it “nearly impossible to cut government spending, reform pensions and benefits, eliminate wasteful programs, attract new jobs and businesses, prioritize the responsibilities of government, and adapt to the twenty-first century economy.”  Workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join or support organizations that often push policies that go beyond the workplace and are not in their best interest as taxpayers.

Many workers may elect not to participate in a union due to political differences with union leadership.  For instance, in 2022, 98.6 percent of political contributions made by the National Education Association (NEA), the largest trade union in the country, went to members of the Democratic Party.  Similarly, the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teacher’s union, gave 99.95 percent of its contributions to Democratic candidates.  This would be fine if workers had the right to choose to have their money spent in this way.  But they do not have a choice, and, whether they are Republicans, independents, or apolitical, workers should not be forced to subsidize political activity with which they may disagree. 

If the Michigan legislature repeals existing right-to-work laws, it will create disconnect between public and private sector workers.  Under the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. ASFCME, non-members of public sector unions cannot be forced to pay union fees under the First Amendment.  Public sector workers, the Court ruled, cannot be forced to finance speech with which they do not agree.  However, because the Court’s decision only applies to the public sector, employees of the state government would continue to be free to work without joining a union or paying dues, while private sector employees would be forced to subsidize political or other speech or activities they find to be disagreeable.

In remarks supporting right-to-work repeal, Senator Darrin Camilleri (D-SD 4) argued that he had “seen firsthand how union membership builds power in our families and communities.”  Unfortunately, that power includes making decisions for workers and taking away their choices.  Repealing right-to-work, however, would imperil the ability of workers throughout Michigan to decide for themselves whether they would receive those benefits or if they would be better off not paying union fees.  That is a choice that should be made by every individual worker, not politicians in Lansing or a political machine bent on pursuing its own interests.