Michigan Passes Right-to-Work
In a move that some say is pro-worker and pro-job-creation, Michigan in December 2012 became the 24th state to pass a Right-to-Work law. Michigan workers will no longer be forced to pay dues to unions, and non-union workers can work in the state at jobs previously controlled by union membership.
Teachers unions vehemently opposed this outcome and members showed up in force at the state capitol to protest. Witnesses said the protestors were loud and angry. Crowd estimates varied between 10,000 and 12,000.
Two Michigan school districts had so many teachers call in “sick” in order to attend the protest that the entire districts had to shut down. The day was treated as a snow day in the Warren and Taylor school districts. Warren school district had more than 750 teachers missing.
Detroit Public Schools’ newly re-elected union president Keith Johnson encouraged members to attend the protest. He said, “We’re encouraging our members to stand in solidarity as a show of anger, defiance and frustration for this whole legislature.” (Detroit News, 12-10-12) It is instructive to note that only 7% of Detroit public school 8th-graders are proficient in reading, and only 4% rank proficient in math, according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress. (Forbes Magazine, 12-13-12)
Videos widely posted following the rally show one protester assaulting a Fox News journalist and a large event-style tent being torn down by an angry mob. The tent belonged to Americans for Prosperity, a group in favor of Right-to-Work. Also destroyed was a popular local hot dog vendor’s cart. A reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of those who stepped outside the law. Sympathetic Facebook users set up a page to help the hot dog vendor recoup his losses. There is no evidence that any teachers were involved in the violence.
A kindergarten teacher from the Warren district, where all schools were closed because so many teachers called in sick in order to attend the Lansing rally, told the Detroit Free Press, “We just want our voices heard. This is important to us to belong to a union, and we want to keep it that way.” (12-11-12)
Some union members brought a large inflatable rat to the Capitol steps referring to it as the “Snyder rat,” as an effigy of the governor. (Detroit Free Press, 12-11-12) For his part, Governor Rick Snyder told Fox News, “Too often the educational system’s all about the adults. To see schools shutting down because of an issue like this is not appropriate in my view.”ÿ The governor added, “Indiana’s had a strong experience. . . . They’ve seen thousands of jobs come to Indiana. Those jobs could also come to Michigan.”
The nearby states of Indiana and Wisconsin recently passed laws at least limiting the collective bargaining power of unions. A similar law in Ohio was overturned. The Michigan law was written in a manner that makes referendum repeal unlikely.
President Obama weighed in on the issue, stating, “These so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws, they don’t have anything to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics. . . . What they’re really talking about is they’re giving you the right to work for less money.”
A Forbes Magazine contributor, James Marshall Crotty, summarized the issue:
Well, if you are a person that wants to see a greater privatization and disaggregation of the nation’s public school system — and advancement based on performance, not seniority or union participation — then you would naturally support right-to-work laws.
However, if you think public education is a right, and public education workers, and public education itself, should be protected at all costs — even [if] it means stomaching occasionally low student and teacher performance in the classroom, and a lack of rigorous accountability from self-perpetuating union leadership — then you should vehemently oppose Michigan’s right-to-work laws. (Forbes Magazine, 12-13-12)