Michigan is on the verge of having a so-called “right-to-work” law imposed on it by a legislature acting in almost complete secrecy, with no opportunity for the public to be heard on the legislation.
If, as is expected, Michigan’s Republican governor signs the measure into law, it will be a major success for wealthy corporate interests that have worked to undermine worker rights in the neighboring states of Wisconsin and Ohio.
The label “right-to-work” is Orwellian in its inaccuracy, as the law provides no one with the right to work. Its real impact is to undermine the ability of workers to secure a living, family-supporting wage as well as safe and decent working conditions. Some have more accurately called these laws the “right to work for less.”
What these “right to work for less” laws do is force workers who have organized into unions to subsidize others who enjoy all of the benefits of a union contract without bearing their share of the cost of obtaining those benefits. These laws cripple workers who have organized to bargain for decent compensation, and encourage a race-to-the-bottom where an individual worker is left to stand up to corporate managers alone while wages and working conditions plummet.
Some proponents of these anti-worker laws claim they are needed so workers aren’t forced to join a union, but that is absolutely false. In states without a “right to work for less” law, any worker is free to choose not to join a union. Even in firms with union contracts, workers may opt to stay out of the union, and need only contribute their fair share of the costs of collective bargaining that the other workers in that firm do.
The rise in anti-worker policies around the country have at their root one significant event, namely the Supreme Court’s lawless Citizens United decision. Since that decision wealthy corporate interests have been free to swamp our most fundamental democratic institutions with a tidal wave of special interest money.
And in fact the “right to work for less” and other anti-worker measures have been pushed by the same wealthy individual and corporate interests that wrote such huge checks in the recent elections. Don’t for one minute think that Michigan’s governor and legislature haven’t been affected by that check-writing. It is the “right to work for less” measure and other anti-worker proposals that are payoff for those interests. The real impact of those wealthy individual and corporate checks isn’t on Election Day, it’s right now -- after the election, when public policy is being enacted.