With all of the talk regarding the Michigan Right-to-Work vote taking place everywhere I turn, I started to reflect upon the only time in my life I was a union member. I was 16 years old and had secured my first job at a car wash. I remember getting one of my first paychecks and noticing that there was a line item for union dues deduction.
I went to my shift supervisor and let him know that there must have been a mistake; I was in high school, how could I be a union member? I was informed that I was indeed a union member and that there wasn’t an option not to be a part of it.
Thirty years later it still doesn’t make sense to me that I was forced to be in a union. By agreeing to work for that employer, I was forced to participate, and pay into, a group that did not benefit me.
The Michigan Right-to-Work Act is long overdue; making the payment of union dues voluntary in the private sector is only fair. If the two bills were enacted, Michigan would become the nation’s 24th right-to-work state. With neighboring states like Wisconsin and Indiana creating a more business friendly environment, Michigan needs to keep up or possibly lose out on future new business gains.
Michigan had the fifth highest percentage of unionized workers in the country at 17.5 percent in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, it seems to me that unions have lost their way, they aren’t about the workers; they are about themselves. They have strayed from their design and purpose — initially battling against corporate tyrants like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan. The unions were seeking fair wages for unskilled workers and a safe work environment before such government departments like OSHA existed.
Like the 8-track tape player and icebox, unions have lost their relevance. In some cases, as with Major League Baseball players, it’s become comical. Seeing MLB union members, with an average starting salary of nearly $500,000, using Twitter to show their union solidarity on Labor Day was absurd.
According to F. Vincent Vernucci, director of labor policy for Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a few top-line facts about right-to-work states should be on the mind of Michigan’s business leaders and citizens:
- Private-sector employee compensation in right-to-work states has grown by an inflation-adjusted 12.0 percent between 2001-2011, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and Bureau of Labor Statistics. That compares with just 3.0 percent over the same period in states where workers are forced to join a union as a condition of getting a job.
- With growing paychecks come growing populations. Between 2000 and 2011, right-to-work states have seen an increase of 11.3 percent in the number of residents between the ages of 25-34, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Non right-to-work states, over that same period, have seen an increase of 0.6 percent.
While the union members getting pepper sprayed in Lansing is sensational for the TV cameras, that type of protest distorts the message. Unions can still exist, Right-to-work laws won’t eliminate the ability of workers to organize in Michigan; Unions will still have a voice if it passes. Right-to-work will not do anything to collective bargaining besides taking away unions’ ability to get workers fired who do not pay them.
If the unions had solid leadership, they would see this legislation as a challenge to improve their offerings to the members and make themselves attractive to new members. They would use it to get more engaged volunteer leader members, become more responsive to workers needs by securing training programs to further develop their skill sets, and stop protecting the union members who abuse the system and casting negative light upon hard working union members.
For example, for the union leaders that represent firefighters, get them the essential supplies they need to serve their communities. Seeing news reports that firefighters in Detroit do not have toilet paper should be an embarrassment to any union member, regardless of affiliation.
By running to the media and crying about how unfair Governor Snyder is in agreeing to sign the right-to-work legislation, should it pass, union leaders make the “One Tough Nerd” look like the true voice of reason.