By: Dan Cohen – 3/10/15
Yesterday, Governor Scott Walker signed a bill that makes Wisconsin the 25th right to work state. “This freedom-to-work legislation will give workers the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a union, and employers another compelling reason to consider expanding or moving their business to Wisconsin,” Mr. Walker said. Wisconsin joins Michigan and Indiana as the third Midwestern state to pass right to work legislation, which had historically been relegated to states in the South, Great Plains and Mountain West.
Wisconsin is the latest, but not likely the last state to join the right to work movement. Right to Work legislation was introduced in Missouri last year where Republicans control a super-majority in both chambers of the Missouri legislature. A similar bill has already passed a full vote in the New Mexico House of Representatives, but still must pass in the Democratic-controlled State Senate. The New Mexico Senate has begun to debate the bill and the Public Affairs Committee could put it to vote shortly.
In Illinois, new Republican Governor, Bruce Rauner, has taken the first steps toward making Illinois a right to work state with his executive order banning public sector unions from requiring state workers to pay union dues. However, Illinois has Democratic super majorities in its legislature so it would appear for now that Illinois will not follow suit on a state-wide basis.
The arguments for and against right to work have been and continue to be made along party lines. Democrats assert that Governor Walker is trying to destroy unions and that his real motivation is political. President Obama criticized Governor Walker as well: “So even as its governor claims victory over working Americans, I’d encourage him to try and score a victory for working Americans — by taking meaningful action to raise their wages and offer them the security of paid leave.”
Republicans argue that right to work improves a State’s economy and invites new businesses to the state. While it is true that Michigan’s economy has improved, it is anyone’s guess how, if at all, right to work was a factor. And, even though Michigan’s union membership has declined since Governor Snyder signed right to work into law, the percentage of union members in Indiana grew to 10.7 percent from 9.1 percent in 2012. With mixed statistics and other factors in play, it is very hard to validate any of these arguments.
I actually believe right to work laws like those in Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin will make unions “more accountable” by forcing them to represent a broader spectrum of interests. If unions can appeal to our diverse workforces and demonstrate their worth, then union support will continue to exist and workers will continue to pay dues. If not, employees will simply stop reaching into their pocketbooks. The difference now, however, is that employees will not lose their jobs because of their decision not to provide financial support to the union. This seems like a much more balanced approach. It should be up to the employees, not their employer, not the government and not the union that represents other employees. Of course, here in Michigan, all eyes will be focused on the automotive industry later this year when the United Auto Workers’ contract with the so-called “big three” will expire, and tens of thousands of workers will be able to opt out of paying dues.
Graphic courtesy National Right to Work.