How freedom came to Michigan

This story of how Michigan’s labor unions were hoisted by their own petard simply warms the heart. Jillian Kay Melchior tells the story at the Corner:

It seems that some Michigan Republicans — controlling the legislature and the governorship — wanted to make Michigan a right-to-work state. But Governor Rick Snyder, again a Republican, was against it. Not that he was against it in principle, but he felt that it was a divisive issue and it wasn’t the time for that debate. However, the labor unions felt differently; they introduced a ballot measure that would have prohibited right-to-work (and also given themselves various other goodies). This forced Republicans to take up the debate they had not planned to have. And the labor unions lost at the polls.

Having won the argument at the polls, Republicans has no reason not to go ahead with right-to-work legislation. Michigan’s unions now face the catastrophe (for them) of worker freedom, and it is entirely of their own making. It’s a heart-warming holiday story.

Anyway, the unions were left screaming about how right-to-work gave non-members workers the ability to freeload on the bargaining conducted by the union. In fact, just 11% of union dues go to contract bargaining (the majority goes to union administration). But numbers aside, the whole argument is a lie.

The truth is, unions are permitted to exclude non-members from the contracts they negotiate. However, the unions don’t want to do that. The unions want everyone on their contract so they can control seniority and whatnot. If they allowed workers to stay off the contract, those workers disadvantaged by the union’s rules would opt out of the union.

If the unions’ concern over freeloading were genuine, they would keep non-members out of the contract, but not a single union will do that, because they want to maintain control over everyone. Right-to-work says the union can choose to control all the workers (lamentably, Federal law gives them that power), but at least disadvantaged workers won’t be forced to sanction that control, or pay for it. (UPDATE: And if you ignore both of those points, there’s still this one.)

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, in the end, labor unions are always about brute force. Basic economics shows that (absent a monopsony situation, which are very rare today) there are always replacement workers to be had. For unions to exercise monopoly power, they need to exclude those replacement workers somehow. Scandalously, labor law helps them to do that, to a large degree, but not in the case of strikes, which are labor’s main bargaining chip. Unions then fall back on force to exclude replacement workers.

Since labor unions are ultimately all about force, we shouldn’t be surprised that their response to right-to-work has been violence, and the threat of more violence.

UPDATE: Rep. Douglas Geiss’s threat (“there will be blood”) went out over the Michigan House Democrats’ official Twitter account.

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