'Right to Work': Is Ohio Next?

It's now been two weeks since the passage of what many thought was the legislative equivalent of pigs flying, hell freezing over, and the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series all happening at the same time: Michigan became the 24th state in the union to enact a "right to work" law.

If it can happen in Michigan, it can happen anywhere -- even in my home state of Ohio. But from all appearances, if the Buckeye State succeeds in going the "right to work" route, it won't be because of anything the state's governor or Republican establishment leadership does.

Contrary to what opponents say, "right to work" is only "anti-union" if you believe that the closed shop is some kind of neutral management-labor arrangement. It's not. Unions claiming to represent their workers can assess whatever level of dues they wish, hire as many administrative and activist cronies as they wish, and spend their members' dues pretty much as they wish. Much of the time, their "work" involves lavish outlays and activities which have little or no direct relationship to worker representation. A recent Heritage Foundation analysis of government reports showed that "less than a quarter (24.1 percent) of expenditures by Michigan’s 25 largest private sector (or public/private hybrid) union locals go towards actually representing workers." Much of the other three-quarters goes to unjustifiable salaries for union bosses and their administrative help which often run well into six figures, expensive junkets they call "business meetings," and, of course, massive contributions in both money and boots on the ground to labor-sympathetic politicians.

Yet it's the unions who hypocritically complain that workers in "right to work" states who won't join up are the "freeloaders."

In a closed shop, workers who don't like what their union is doing can't resign from the union without losing their jobs. Withholding payment of dues isn't an option either, at least not without an expensive, protracted fight, because employers almost invariably must deduct dues from workers' paychecks under the union contract. Thanks to the Supreme Court's 1988 Communications Workers of America vs. Beck ruling, workers can demand a return of "funds collected from them on activities unrelated to collective-bargaining activities." But because the federal government and virtually no states have codified the Beck ruling into law, workers must attempt to collect individually, while resource-rich unions are free to drag out and otherwise resist such requests.

Contrary to media reports which claim that the term is misleading -- reports which are often prepared by journalists who are themselves union members -- "right to work" perfectly describes what laws outlawing the closed shop accomplish. Employees can negotiate with prospective employers for their services without having to join whatever union may represent some of a location's workers. That is, they now have the "right to work" anywhere their services are desired. In turn, employers have the right to hire workers who choose to join or not to join a union, even if many of their workers are already represented by one.

Heaven knows that Michigan had to do something to reverse its past ten years of deterioration. In the first eight of those years under Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm, the state lost almost 580,000 jobs and saw its population shrink. While per-capita income in the rest of the U.S. went up by about 5 percent, Michigan's barely budged. In October, the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate -- which peaked at an incredible 14.2 percent under Granholm -- was still 9.1 percent and stagnating.