Right-to-work law just a ploy to hob­ble unions, Democrats

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - From the left Mon­day Tues­day Wed­nes­day Thurs­day JEFF KOWALSKY / BLOOMBERG Gold­man is the au­thor of‘the Sci­ence of Set­tle­ment: Ideas for Ne­go­tia­tors.’he wrote this for the Los An­ge­les Times. Fri­day Satur­day Sun­day


a 60-year-old lawyer and part­time law pro­fes­sor. Chant­ing slo­gans is not my pre­ferred method of dis­course. But on Tues­day, I was in the streets of Lans­ing, Mich., march­ing and chant­ing my­self hoarse.

I make my liv­ing as a la­bor ar­bi­tra­tor. I’ve spent the last 20 years sit­ting as a neu­tral third party in dis­putes be­tween em­ploy­ers and unions. It is an ad­ver­sar­ial sys­tem, and dis­cus­sions are of­ten heated. But the sys­tem works be­cause the par­ties meet as equals. It wouldn’t work if ei­ther party were able to dom­i­nate. That bal­ance is be­ing threat­ened.

Both houses of the lame-duck Michi­gan leg­is­la­ture just passed “right-towork” bills. They did it with­out pub­lic hear­ings or de­bate. And they did it now be­cause odds are they won’t have the votes af­ter the first of the year. The gov­er­nor signed the bill.

There is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for th­ese bills ex­cept that they are an ef­fort by the Repub­li­can-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture to weaken the la­bor move­ment and cut off oxy­gen to the Demo­cratic Party.

Let’s re­view. So-called right-to-work leg­is­la­tion elim­i­nates the union shop. Un­der cur­rent law in Michi­gan and 26 other states, if the ma­jor­ity of work­ers in a bar­gain­ing unit vote to be rep­re­sented by a union, ev­ery­one in the unit has to pay union dues or an equiv­a­lent fee. No one can take ad­van­tage of the ben­e­fits of union mem­ber­ship with­out con­tribut­ing to its costs. The ef­fect is that or­ga­nized la­bor has both money and po­lit­i­cal troops. And that means there is a po­lit­i­cal bloc in fa­vor of work­ing peo­ple. Most of the sup­port from that bloc goes to Democrats.

Repub­li­cans don’t like that ar­range­ment.

Here’s the Michi­gan gov­er­nor’s state­ment: “We owe much to the la­bor move­ment — the end of child la­bor, the 40-hour work­week, safe work­ing con­di­tions in fac­to­ries and a guar­an­teed min­i­mum wage. The la­bor move­ment is an im­por­tant part of Michi­gan’s fab­ric, and noth­ing about this pro­posal elim­i­nates it.

“But we also have an­other great his­tory in our state and our coun­try, and that’s the free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion — it’s the con­sti­tu­tional right upon which work­ers’ abil­ity to or­ga­nize as unions is founded. Im­plicit in that right, though, is choice — the free­dom to choose to be­long, or not be­long, to a union.”

Let’s sup­pose for a moment that the gov­er­nor be­lieves that state­ment. The la­bor move­ment once did great things, but now we need to con­cen­trate on our equally proud tra­di­tion of free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion. Fine. But why does the same state­ment by the same gov­er­nor also con­tain this sen­tence: “What’s

Scot Le­high

Paul Krug­man

Dana Milbank

Mau­reen Dowd more, this pro­posal has no im­pact on po­lice or fire unions.”

If free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion is the prin­ci­ple driv­ing this ef­fort, why are po­lice and fire unions ex­empt? Wouldn’t they too ben­e­fit from “work­place fair­ness and eq­uity”? It doesn’t make sense.

That’s be­cause it is eye­wash. If you un­der­stand that the pur­pose of the bills is to weaken unions and there­fore Democrats, it makes per­fect sense. Po­lice and fire unions are ex­empt be­cause they are po­lit­i­cally con­ser­va­tive. They don’t need “fair­ness and eq­uity” be­cause they sup­port the GOP.

The gov­er­nor’s other ar­gu­ment is that “free­dom to work” will make Michi­gan more com­pet­i­tive. As he put it: “Just like Michi­gan’s nat­u­ral beauty at­tracts tourists from around the coun­try, our eco­nomic con­di­tions at­tract work­ers and busi­nesses, too. But if an­other state can of­fer a bet­ter home, Michi­gan can lose out, no mat­ter how great our state may be. That’s why we must re­main com­pet­i­tive.”

In a visit to Michi­gan on Mon­day, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama called it a “race to the bot­tom.”

If Michi­gan can re­main com­pet­i­tive with In­di­ana by be­com­ing a right-towork state, maybe we could out-com­pete In­di­ana by elim­i­nat­ing worker safety laws. Maybe one day we will be able to of­fer such low wages and taxes, such tooth­less tort law and en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion and such a com­pli­ant Leg­is­la­ture that we will be able to com­pete with Mis­sis­sippi!

This was a sneaky, cyn­i­cal, back­door, lame-duck gim­mick. If th­ese bills are en­acted, the la­bor move­ment in Michi­gan will be rad­i­cally weak­ened, and cap­i­tal will be able to fur­ther dom­i­nate the sys­tem.

Hey hey, ho ho, right-to-work has got to go.

Gail Collins

John Young

Leonard Pitts Scot Le­high will re­turn.

Right-to-work bill pro­test­ers carry signs and a large in­flat­able rat out­side the Capi­tol build­ing in Lans­ing, Mich., on Tues­day.

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