This past week, Michigan enacted two new laws to become a ‘right-to-work’ state, in which employees are not required to join a union or pay dues in order to work for a particular employer. The two laws affect public and private employees, and go into effect early next year.
It’s a sad moment for Michigan, and for the country. Michigan is, if not the birthplace of organized labor, one of the places where it gained political traction. For many years, a union industrial job making cars or refining steel or doing any of a thousand other things was a ticket to a comfortable middle-class lifestyle.
Private-sector unions were one of the things that made this country great. They raised wages for working people, broadened the tax base, and improved the lives of millions. And now, in what had been the industrial heartland, they have been cast aside. No, right-to-work laws don’t make unions illegal. But by stripping the requirement of membership and paying dues, they cannot function effectively as the bargaining agent for their members.
And what does Michigan gain as a result? Not much, as far as I can tell. Yes, there will be more jobs available, but at lower wages. If you worked in a Ford plant full-time, years ago, you earned enough to support yourself and your family, buy a house (and pay the property taxes), and treat yourself to vacations and other luxuries. But if you work full-time for Wal-Mart, you might still be eligible for food stamps. This is called ‘externalizing costs.’
But, I hear you cry, what if I don’t like my union’s political views? Then work someplace else. Any employment is necessarily a package deal: you have to take the bad with the good. Other private-sector entities, like corporations, are active in politics to advance their own interests. Why should unions be different?
The race to the bottom continues….