The action of the Michigan State Legislature and the signing by Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan’s Right To Work laws comes a day late and dollar short, or maybe two decades late.
Indiana was the first of the “Rust Belt” states to pass RTW, but it has been less than a glowing success. In the first place, Indiana’s RTW laws haven’t been in force long enough to accurately judge if they have made any difference at all to attract businesses to the state. So far it has done nothing. According to business leaders, the RTW doesn’t receive much consideration relative to capital investment decisions. However, what do count highly are financial incentive packages. Michigan’s claim that they needed to have RTW in order to compete with Indiana seems to be fallacious at best.
If one takes a serious look at the effectiveness of RTW, it seems that the effectiveness has been declining over the past two decades and has begun a steeper decline after the passage of NAFTA and Favored Nation Status for China. During the 1970s and 1980s the move to RTW states reached a peak, but when the greatest labor savings could be achieved by moving production to Mexico or China, it became the first choice for business.
What RTW does is provide downward pressure on wages and benefits for all workers. In comparison, non-RTW states wages are 3.2% higher than RTW states, RTW states are less likely to have employer paid healthcare plans, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the incidence of worker related injuries and deaths is 52% higher in RTW states. The lower wages and benefits are a direct attack on the middle class wage earner and families. In general, the RTW states have a less educated workforce and subsequently lower employable skill levels.
Since enacting RTW doesn’t improve a state’s ability to attract business and forces a decline in wages and ultimately the tax base; what are the advantages to becoming a RTW state? The advantages are purely political; it cuts the political power of the unions. This is the real goal of those state legislators and governors who advocate RTW laws. RTW cuts the money going to unions and money is translated into political power. Conservatives see this as a means to gain and remain in power. In Michigan, RTW was a huge symbolic win for the Republicans, which will lose legislative majorities next year, by bringing RTW to the traditionally most heavily unionized state in America, home of the UAW.
Most large businesses support RTW because the cutting of the union power makes it easier in the collective bargaining process. Divided and unstable work forces cannot press as hard to achieve labor demands.
The “Open Shop” is an inheritantly unjust arrangement. When workers are given a choice whether to join the union or not, those that choose not to, receive all the benefits essentially for free. Also, if the union in its performance of duties decides that a work action is in order, the non-union members are under no obligation to comply and sabotage the effectiveness of such actions. This weakens the overall ability of union effectiveness. Supporters of RTW claim that no one should have to pay to work; but if that is the case, then they should be willing to amend the labor laws that non-union members should have to negotiate independently for wages, benefits and work place conditions rather than ride on the coattails of the unions.
During Indiana’s fight over RTW, the Executive Director of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce was asked if they expect unions to represent non-members, does the Chamber of Commerce provide benefits for their non-members. His answer was absolutely not; if they did, how would the Chamber stay in business. He was essentially saying, “Why pay for the cow when you can get the milk for free”? This is the situation faced by union shops in RTW states.
Although Governor Walker has said that he will not push for Wisconsin to become Right To Work during this next legislative session, he has also remained silent as to whether or not he would sign it or exercise his veto. With the continuing slow economic growth, the Republican legislature needs to leave this wish lying on the side of road and concentrate on creating jobs in the state. RTW time has passed.