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Michigan’s Modest Labor Reform

Outside the capitol building in Lansing, Mich., December 11, 2012

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Michigan has passed a modest labor reform, and the result has been threats and violence from Democratic elected officials and their union henchmen. While this is deplorable, it is not surprising: Organized labor’s business model is mechanically identical to extortion, and it is in the nature of the extortionist’s trade to resort to violence when frustrated.

To hear the Democrats tell the tale, you would think that Governor Rick Snyder and Michigan’s Republican-controlled legislature had abolished unions. In fact, the legislation merely prohibits unions from forcing workers to pay dues to them as a condition of employment, which is why such measures are called “right-to-work laws.” The law imposes no limitation on unions’ ability to organize, to engage in collective bargaining, or to strike. It merely forbids them to take money out of the pockets of workers who do not wish to join them.

In response, Democratic legislator Douglas Geiss declared on the floor of the state house: “There will be blood. There will be repercussions.” And indeed there were: Knife-wielding partisans brought down a tent on representatives from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity — women and children among them — and roughed up bystanders. Fox News contributor Steven Crowder was beaten by the same mob, punched repeatedly in the face.

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Michigan is the 24th state to enact a right-to-work law, and the most heavily unionized state to do so. Even though Michigan is the heartland of the United Auto Workers, only 17.5 percent of the state’s workers belong to unions, and most of the state’s union members are government employees. Indeed, so many government-school employees called in sick to protest the right-to-work bill that some school districts had to be shut down. (Not that Michigan’s schools are doing Michiganders much good: The share of Michigan eighth-graders who perform proficiently in math and science is 29.4 and 16.5 percent respectively, suggesting that very few of them will be ready for the high-tech manufacturing jobs that are the pride of the state’s economy.) Michigan was inspired to pursue reforms in no small part by the example of Indiana, which saw its business-recruiting prospects improve after enacting right-to-work reform.

Right-to-work laws do not necessarily hobble unions; rather, they force unions to compete for resources and prove their value to their workers. Some unions provide obvious value: In places in which private-sector unions already are strongly established, right-to-work laws have in fact had little effect on union membership. The critical difference is that workers have a choice. This is a principle that should be codified in law in every state, and at the federal level as well. Someday, an ambitious Republican congressional majority should simply repeal the corrosive National Labor Relations Act and be done with it. But until that time, the right will proceed state by state.

Democrats are panicked by the spread of right-to-work reforms because the mandatory deduction of dues from the paychecks of public-sector employees provides the party’s financial lifeblood. There are not that many UAW members or Teamsters in the country, but there are legions of bureaucrats, school workers, and surly DMV clerks — and, through its relationship with the public-sector unions, the Democratic party has a direct pipeline into the pockets of practically each and every one of them. The shrieking in Michigan isn’t about workingmen’s wages, but campaign coffers. That is why there is blood.



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