Director of Labor Policy
Michigan is poised to pass a Right-to-Work law in the next couple of days. Union protesters are staked out at the Capitol building making their anti-Right-to-Work opinions known. This is a key point in a huge political battle that will have repercussions that go well beyond the state of Michigan. Your friendly neighborhood labor expert is here to explain what’s going on and what all of this means.
Q: What is happening in Michigan?
A: Last Thursday Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced that he wanted the state Legislature to pass the so-called “Worker Fairness and Equity Act,” a Right-to-Work law.
Q: What is a Right-to-Work law?
A: Right to Work means that a worker in a unionized company cannot be forced to join a union or pay union dues and fees as a condition of employment.
Q: Are workers forced to join a union under current law?
A: Technically, no. Practically, yes. If there’s a union at your workplace, you don’t have to formally join the union. But if you don’t join, you still have to pay what’s called an agency fee – basically dues to support the union. It’s generally the same amount you would pay as a union member and it goes to the same people either way – unless there’s a right-to-work law in place.
Q: Why do unions dislike Right-to-Work laws?
A: Unions know that if they give workers a choice on whether or not to join – and thus pay dues – funding will drop. When funding drops, union power decreases.
Union dues are worth a lot of money: anywhere from $400 to $1,000 for every worker. There are millions of dollars at stake.
A couple days ago, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who was a big union backer in her day, tweeted that Right to Work was “a move to cut-off the resources that give labor unions their strength: Funding.”
Q: How much is really at stake?
A: To give a couple Illinois examples, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local Council 31, the outfit that represents Illinois state employees, had a budget of $40 million in 2011. The Chicago Teachers Union raked in $25.8 million in membership dues in 2010. The figures from Michigan are in the same ballpark.
Q: Why would Michigan want to do this?
A: Michigan’s economy has been struggling for the last decade. Right to Work is proven to attract employers that create jobs. From 2002 to 2010 Right-to-Work states have seen their payrolls increase by 3 percent, while jobs have dropped by 3 percent in states without Right-to-Work laws.
Q: What will this mean for Illinois?
A: More and more nearby states are making union dues optional. Iowa has had Right to Work for decades. Wisconsin passed something like Right to Work for most government employees as part of its labor law reform last year. Indiana passed Right to Work earlier this year. And now Michigan is set to have Right to Work, too. On a clear day, you supposedly can see Michigan from the top of the Willis Tower; it’s not that far away. Employers who might be looking to expand in Illinois have one more attractive option nearby.
Stay tuned for part two of our Right-to-Work series tomorrow.