To every thing there is a season, the Good Book says, and in Michigan workplaces the season of freedom is arriving at last.
Republican legislators voted Tuesday to make Michigan the 24th state in the nation to protect an essential civil liberty: the right to work for a living without being required to join or pay money to a labor union. Governor Rick Snyder signed the new laws — one dealing with private-sector employees, one covering government employment — a few hours later, hailing them as “pro-worker and pro-Michigan.”
Big Labor and its allies, of course, are furiously denouncing this as “union busting” and worse. President Obama told union members at a Michigan engine plant on Monday that “so-called right to work laws” are an attempt “to take away your rights to bargain for better wages or working conditions.” Democratic congressman Sander Levin fumed on PBS that backers of right-to-work laws want “to snuff out the voice in the workplace, to destroy collective bargaining.” Thousands of union activists descended on the state Capitol in Lansing, feverishly protesting what the United Auto Workers hyperbolically labels “the worst anti-worker legislation Michigan has ever seen.”
But fewer and fewer people are swayed by such over-the-top rhetoric. Even in Michigan, where the UAW was launched 75 years ago and which has long been thought of as an organized-labor stronghold, unions’ strong-arm tactics no longer compel the deference they once did. On Election Day, Michigan voters comfortably backed Obama over Mitt Romney, while simultaneously spurning — by a 15-point margin — a union-promoted measure that would have cemented collective bargaining into the state constitution.
Labor unions commanded greater public affection back when they relied more on the power of persuasion than on the persuasion of power. In a 1957 Gallup Poll, 75 percent of Americans said they approved of unions. Today union approval stands at just 52 percent, while a plurality of Americans say that unions should have less influence, not more. Michigan may be America’s fifth-most unionized state, but even there most residents want little to do with organized labor. Union members account for just 17.5 percent of Michigan’s workforce.
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