Unions Greet ‘Right-to-Work’ with Defiance—and in Some Cases, Adaptation
On Thursday, Michigan officially became the 24th “right to work” state when a controversial new law went into effect, allowing employees enjoy the benefits of a union contract—such as guaranteed wages and a grievance procedure—without required union financial contributions.
The law threatens to undermine unions in a state that has long been a labor stronghold: Michigan was the birthplace of the United Auto Workers and boasts a unionization rate of 16.6 percent of workers, well above the national average of 11.3 percent. But there is strong evidence from other states that right-to-work prompts a decline in unionized workers. The lack of guaranteed financial contributions hurts union coffers, and it also means more time maintaining a dues paying membership base than recruiting new members. “The union becomes more of a voluntary organization,” says longtime labor organizer Rand Wilson, who is now policy director at SEIU Local 888 in Massachusetts, one historically pro-union state that has not passed right-to-work. “Managers are going to be more assertive and they are going to sense that the union is weaker.”