Michigan lawmakers began debate today on controversial “right to work” legislation that would forbid requiring workers to pay union dues. The legislation is expected to pass despite widespread protests in and around the state capital. If it passes MI will be the 24th state with such laws that limit union participation as a condition of employment.
Two years ago Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker proposed other controversial legislation limiting the bargaining power of public employee unions as a cost-cutting measure. The measure passed despite opposition from both unions and the public, but Walker was punished for it in a brutal recall election he barely survived. Similar legislation failed to pass in Ohio a year later as anti-union sentiment continues to thrive in a difficult economic climate.
So-called “right to work” legislation is anything but employment guarantees and workplace protections. In fact, by diluting the power of unions to maintain “closed shops” with employers, such legislation actually diminishes the individual and collective voice rights in labor contracts, making it easier for employers to pay weak wages, provide little benefits, and terminate employees on demand.
The recent movement to pass “right to work” laws has been backed by corporate and industry lobbying efforts in conjunction with the Republican Party and groups such as the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The wisdom of such legislation is questionable in the long run as the wages of American workers continue to decline and the cost of employment benefits are increasingly placed on the shoulders of employees. In the short term support for this misnamed legislation has received a boost from calls for austerity against big government. However, it isn’t big government spending that is to blame for the sluggish economic recovery, but declining revenues tied to a tax base that has significantly shrunk in the wake of the recession.
Once again it appears that workers with good paying jobs will pay the price of corporate and political corruption, and unfortunately many Americans are helping to destroy these jobs by backing right-wing policies against workers‘ rights.