How Union Greed Caused Michigan's Right-to-Work Bill

Union overreach in the 2012 election set the stage for labor's last stand in Lansing over right-to-work legislation. 

Tuesday's planned mass protests in Michigan are the culmination of years of struggle by unions fighting to maintain their political and financial power. The organized labor representatives claim victimhood, but it was a proposed pro-union constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that may have been been the tipping point inspiring the state Republicans' bill.

The push to adopt right-to-work has been a legislative struggle for decades. The Midwestern rust belt states that are the birthplace of the modern American labor movement have been the last holdouts, while workers in those states watched helplessly as jobs went to right-to-work bastions like Tennessee, Mississippi, and Texas.

Worse for labor bosses, the Obama economy hit Michigan like a hurricane. Unemployment in the state skyrocketed, from 7.1% when Obama came into office in January 2008 and then doubling to 14.2% near the time Granholm left the Governor's office due to term limits.

The 2010 election had brought in a Republican Governor, Rick Snyder, who was known as a labor friendly moderate. Snyder was in no mood to push for right-to-work legislation that would be sure to trigger the wrath of the unions. Things seemed to be at a status quo.

Even though union accomplishments have been steadily declining since the 1950s, the idea of a Midwestern labor stronghold state slipping into the right-to-work camp seemed unthinkable until Indiana adopted right-to-work in February 2012. That move sent a jolt of fear into the hearts of union officials.

Michigan labor responded by getting Proposal 2 on the November 2012 ballot. The unions, nervous about the trending public opinion towards right-to-work, made a bold power play.

Both sides spent a tremendous amount of money on Proposal 2; the Chamber of Commerce and wealthy individuals like Sheldon Adelson and the DeVos family chipping in to set Michigan workers and taxpayers free from union monopolies. Meanwhile, the unions spent tens of millions of dollars in union dues on the failed initiative. 

The use of members' dues proved that the feelings of many former labor union loyalists were correct; Big Labor had become largely about fighting contentious political battles and less about the welfare of the rank and file. Money that could have gone to training or even just back in the pockets of labor union members was wasted; the initiative lost in a landslide. Even more embarrassing, the 58% - 42% loss came amid Democratic gains at every level in the 2012 elections in Michigan.

In the wake of the election day mandate against labor leadership, the Republican legislators and Governor Snyder were able to gather the political will to try to make the state competitive again. Right on cue, the labor unions threw the temper tantrum that many had feared and stormed the capitol building.

Expect the Unions this week to make a mighty noise and expect the silent majority to stay home. Make no mistake, though; in November, the people of Michigan spoke loudly and clearly; they want the right to work without the union middlemen taking their cut.

Photo: Lee Stranahan/Breitbart News


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