The United States of America is now almost evenly divided between 24 right to work states (not by accident only two of these are in the rust belt) and 26 no right to work states. Yesterday Michigan became the 24th state to embrace right to work status.
What is significant about yesterday’s switch is that Michigan is the historic bastion of big labor, home to the once-biggest and most powerful labor union in the nation the UAW. How indeed have the mighty fallen on the field of battle. Barack Obama beat his bully pulpit last week to keep Michigan in the hands of Big Labor. But on this contentious issue, even the Messiah struck out.
‘Right to work’ states ban unions from requiring union membership and union dues from any individual who works in a union-recognized company or industry. This is an important ban. It denies the union any right to force union membership or to extract union dues from the paycheck of any unwilling employee. Implicitly, the union therefore cannot deploy such coerced membership and monetary extractions in lobbying support for political candidates not favored by individuals working in a labor-recognized company.
Since Big Labor almost always supports union-favoring Democrats running for political office, right to work states confirm the right of any individual, wherever he is employed, to support candidates of his choice, or not to support anyone at all. That is a basic freedom that Big Labor and the Democratic Party jointly despise. And yet the leaders of Big Labor and of the Democratic Party happily mouth empty words about ‘The Land of the Free’!
Right to work states typically are more attractive to new enterprise, hence the term rust belt for many of the states that favor Big Labor. In October 2012, right to work states averaged 6.9 per cent unemployment as compared with the national average of 7.6 per cent. Wages tend to be about 10 per cent lower in right to work states. Big labor protects the wage rates of its members while losing members rapidly because of over-pricing. So Obama was basically correct, at least in the short run, in claiming that ‘right to work’ allows individuals to work for less money. Of course, he did not stress the allowed to work part of that statement. For example, in 2004, the UAW boasted 654,000 active members. In 2012, its membership is down to 380,000 and many of those are living off taxpayer subsidies.
But the real benefit provided by right to work status is political and economic freedom. And lovers of liberty attach a high value to those freedoms.