Right to work? Yes, for all of Michigan

Guest Editorial
The state’s largest teachers union, the Michigan Education Association, supports recalls against several Republican state lawmakers. On Friday, one of Michigan’s most powerful state lawmakers, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, said he supports changing the law to make membership in teachers unions voluntary.

Is politics at work here? No doubt.

But is it also a good idea? Yes, and not only for teachers.

Richardville opened the door to what will be this fall’s marquee political fight in Lansing by taking aim at the MEA’s activities. Teachers, he argues, should not be forced to pay for union dues if that means supporting political causes, big salaries for union leaders or lobbying that only indirectly benefits employees.

If a teacher concludes he or she can better spend money that would go toward dues, then that teacher deserves that choice.

But do not stop there. Offer that opportunity to employees at any unionized workplace. No union should be able to impose its agenda without allowing its members to make an informed choice on whether they support it.

Turning Michigan into a right-to-work state would do far more than offer individual freedom. It would change the culture in our state.

Michigan is seen as one of the most pro-union states in the country — and we are not the better for it. The horror stories of union-protected incompetence or workers being paid to do nothing have shaped Michigan’s image. Unions helped sink the Detroit Three automakers, and it took bankruptcy to revise union-negotiated contracts to help return those companies to profitability.

Twenty-two states have right-to-work laws, largely in the South and West, and not coincidentally, many of those states have succeeded in attracting business investment at a far greater rate than Michigan. Company owners can and do work with unions, but voluntary membership can push unions to respond to members, if they want those employees as dues-paying members.

A right-to-work law could create a significant economic-development tool for Michigan. It could give the state a new identity and grab the attention of companies, whose owners already should be impressed by the state’s new tax structure. Ultimately, the outcome should be more jobs for the state and an end to double-digit unemployment.

Richardville is targeting the MEA because it is an egregious example of a union straying from a pro-worker mission. However, he and other state lawmakers can do better by broadening their focus.

Move beyond the teaching profession. Give all workers the option of whether they want to belong to unions.