A decade ago, Michigan outlawed forced unionism. The Democrats who last year won control of that state’s legislature are working on restoring the concept so their constituents can enjoy its putative rewards.
How kind. The constituents didn’t even need to ask.
Really, they just didn’t want to. Michiganders’ decision to yank power from the Republicans in both legislative chambers says plenty about the GOP’s organizational and substantive failings. But survey data show it says nothing about what voters think of the right-to-work law party members enacted in 2012. That statute, signed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder, banned any contract compelling workers to pay dues to a labor organization they refuse to join.
SurveyUSA, which boasts an “A” rating from the FiveThirtyEight analysis website, administered the latest poll on that law and found 74 percent of respondents want right-to-work preserved while only 14 percent want it gone. Support for retention, moreover, is bipartisan: Eighty-three percent of Republicans and 67 percent of Democrats back right-to-work.
Recent surveys by Target Point Consulting and the nonprofit Mackinac Center for Public Policy reported similar findings. Majorities of every regional, income, sex and age demographic told pollsters they favor current state law. Residents of union and nonunion households alike overwhelmingly oppose repeal. While Michiganders might soon lose their freedom to refuse union association, they haven’t agreed to waive that freedom.
Public-opinion data collected in Pennsylvania indicates Keystone Staters also desire that right. A poll commissioned by the Harrisburg-based Lincoln Institute in 2013 found that 77 percent of Pennsylvania voters with an opinion on the policy supported adopting it.
Obviously, that can’t happen just yet. Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) would never sign such a bill and, because his party controls the state House, one wouldn’t even reach his desk. But Pennsylvania Republicans should prepare to take action on the matter whenever they again become ascendant, for states that went right-to-work have realized clear benefits.
During the previous decade, according to federal data, states banning contracts with forced-dues provisions (known as agency shop) saw their numbers of employed residents rise 13.2 percent. States allowing compulsory payments only saw employment go up 5.7 percent. And the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center determined that right-to-work states enjoyed a cost of living-adjusted per-capita disposable income that exceeded that of forced-unionism states by over $3,400 in 2021.
States forbidding agency shop also outperform other states by numerous other metrics including higher population growth, less welfare reliance and stabler public-pension plans. Yet what advantages working people can disadvantage those claiming to speak for them. The United Auto Workers, the Michigan Laborers District Council, the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters & Millwrights, the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers count themselves as some of Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s most bountiful campaign donors. Many legislators in her party can say the same and want to reward their benefactors by reviving agency shop.
These officials also get lavish support from public-sector unions like the Michigan Education Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. While the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision will prevent these organizations from directly benefiting from right-to-work’s demise, these groups work symbiotically with their private-sector counterparts. While free-marketers widely regard public-employee unions as more pernicious, other labor organizations ally with those associations against school choice and other government reforms. This reality makes achieving labor freedom across the board all the more important.
Some Republicans who should appreciate this believe their party’s relationship with unions has somehow improved as blue-collar voters have warmed to the GOP. But here again, workers and their supposed advocates are misaligned: Labor political action committees gave about $68 million to candidates nationwide in 2021 and 2022; nearly $60 million of that went to Democrats.
And still, for years, Pennsylvania Republicans have gradually lost interest in right-to-work. No member of the General Assembly proposed it last session when the party controlled both chambers. (Then-Gov. Tom Wolf [D] would not have signed it, but that didn’t stop legislators from offering many other sound measures that Wolf opposed.) Last year, numerous GOP leaders backed forced-unionism stalwart Dave White’s failed primary bid for governor.
Pennsylvanians worried by this state of affairs could easily see Michigan’s looming mistake as just another reason for gloom. They should instead take heart in knowing that right-to-work remains worthy and popular, whatever some in the political class may think of it. Corralling enough support among that class will take years. Let’s not delay.
Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow him on Twitter at @BVasoli.