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Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times


Republican-dominated Michigan Legislature on Tuesday approved sweeping, statewide changes to the way unions will be financed, substantially reducing their power in a state that has long been a symbol of union might and an incubator for the American labor movement.
Limits on Unions Pass in Michigan, Once a Mainstay

Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

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    • H Addison
    • Michigan
    NYT Pick

    Unions are like vaccinations.

    For decades, they have protected workers against the most egregious practices of management. In fact, unions did their job so well that many people have forgotten just what the labor movement won for America, just as many of us have forgotten (or never had to face) the life-threatening diseases that immunizations protect us against.

    Sadly, some of us have become complacent about (or even suspicious of) immunizations. We have also become complacent about unions and their essential role in our democracy.

    I hope we remember….before it’s too late. Even companies with the best intentions can exploit their workers, and without strong unions, there will be no system of checks and balances to stop them.

    • al
    • NYC
    NYT Pick

    Wonders for the economy of Texas? The question is what kind of jobs are there in Texas?

    “Some 550,000 workers last year were paid at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25, more than double the number making those wages in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For someone working full-time, that’s just over $15,000 a year before taxes, which is under the poverty line for a single parent with two children.

    Some 9.5% of Texas’ hourly workforce are minimum-wage workers, the highest percentage in the nation — a dubious title it shares with Mississippi.”
    http://money.cnn.com/2011/09/18/news/economy/poverty_perry_texas/index.htm

    • Edward Hershey
    • Portland, Oregon
    NYT Pick

    The last national election notwithstanding, there was a two-part strategy to preserving the huge wealth gap. First, allow unlimited campaign spending to, second, fund the election of governors and legislators who could then diminish the major source of campaign donations for those who oppose oligarchy — labor unions. But even in this predictable scenario, Michigan represents a raw betrayal because its governor campaigned as a moderate and said he would not side with the union-busters. Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing!

    • Shark
    • New York, NY
    NYT Pick

    Kindly remind me. Wasn’t the Republicans/Tea Party running clearly on this anti-union platform, and were elected when they were talking tough about reigning in Union powers?

    Why are people now scandalized their elected officials are doing what they told you they would set out to do.

    • LPG
    • Boston, MA
    NYT Pick

    Well then you should not be benefiting from the union negotiated contract. You should be required to negotiate your own contract with the employer. If you don’t pay for the union protection, you shouldn’t get it.

    • drbookworm
    • Ann Arbor
    NYT Pick

    That’s not how it works. Your dues are not used for political contributions, because it’s not legal. Unions have separate PAC, to which members may contribute IF THEY WISH. Why is it ok for conservative groups to have PACs to gather money to advocate for their positions, but it’s not ok for unions to do the same?

    • joe walsh
    • New Mexico
    NYT Pick

    This proposed law is so popular and so beneficial that the legislature has to depend on pepper spray and tear gas to keep out the people who oppose the bill. That tells us something, I think, that many workers are strongly opposed.

    • maruja frank
    • Washington DC
    NYT Pick

    You will be paid minimum wage, at best. Wait and see. The purpose of this legislation is to depress wages and benefits. The Koch Brothers and their friends want to level the playing field for labor internationally. They won’t be satisfied until the pay scale and benefits for the average American worker are on par with what workers get paid in Latin American and in south Asia, for example.

    • RLS
    • Virginia
    NYT Pick

    American workers should not be asked to compete with workers who earn 20-30 cents an hour and with countries that lack adequate environmental and safety standards. We do not have to engage in a race to the bottom. Our goal is to bring them up, not us down.

    How does Germany do it? German automakers are quite profitable despite the fact that worker wages and benefits averaged $67.14, while compensation for American autoworkers averaged $33.77 according to 2007 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    “The German example goes ‘against all mainstream wisdom of the neo-liberals. We have strong unions, we have strong social security systems, we have high wages. So, if I believed what the neo-liberals are arguing, we would have to be bankrupt, but apparently this is not the case. Despite high wages…despite our possibility to influence companies, the economy is working well in Germany.’”

    A Tale of Two Systems
    http://www.remappingdebate.org/article/tale-two-systems

    • D Richards
    • Royal Oak, Michigan
    NYT Pick

    No. Not in Michigan. The governor indicated early on he was not interested in Right to Work legislation. And I guarantee he made no mention of any intention to support Right to Work during his election campaign, when he received many votes from independents and Democrats.

    The most obnoxious aspect of his change of heart is the claim by Governor Syder that the purpose is “for the freedom of the workers”. That phony claim is a slap in the face to working people, and an insult to the intelligence of everyone.

    • Russell Long
    • San francisco
    NYT Pick

    Reading these comments, its clear that many, if not the majority of us agree that unions are absolutely vital to protect worker rights, fight for healthy labor conditions, and a living wage. At the same time, many of us also believe that one should have the freedom to choose whether to pay dues to a group that purports to represent you, even though you may not like their leadership, or they represent you poorly. So the bill begs the issue, which is, how to have strong union membership while also offering the freedom to opt out. and not be coerced into paying dues. This bill is clearly a political attempt to undermine the funds that unions raise to help fund progressive politicians. And if it gets signed, unions will have to do the hard work of earning their members full trust, and raising funds from them with true accountability for results. I doubt this bill is the end of the world. It will hopefully just create more responsible union leaders who will work harder to be responsive to their members. If they do a good job, it could lead to much stronger unions (at least in theory).

    • Sat
    • Chapel Hill
    NYT Pick

    I was in a union once, paying >$1000 in dues every year.

    My dues weren’t being spent wisely. Every year the union ran a scholarship program, which was basically a raffle, paid for with union dues. Every year they had a banquet, which was a sellout event for the simple reason that they raffled off $15,000 in door prizes, also funded out of my dues. It would make more sense to me if they just reduced by dues by a few dollars, and did away with the fluff, but the politics of the union kept the lotteries going.

    I wouldn’t mind a union that focused on workplace safety and working conditions, but mandatory union dues seems to only create an entity focused on perpetuating itself.

    • Mike
    • New Haven, CT
    NYT Pick

    Well, al; what kinds of jobs pay minimum wages? Jobs for which the work required is unskilled. Jobs that used to be filled by high school and college students. Now these same jobs are largely filled by illegal aliens and high school drop-outs. Come on al, how much are these workers worth? How much should these jobs pay?

    As for all the single parents with two children working these jobs: how many have prepared themselves for better occupations before they had children? Not many. Employers should not be forced to subsidize people who have failed to prepare for life by requiring wages in excess of what the work is worth.

    • Liz
    • Alaska
    NYT Pick

    I lived in Michigan for quite a while and this is a shooting war if I ever saw one. I predict it is yet another example of conservative Republicans going too far and there will be a major backlash. If a Right to Work law is “right” for Michigan, then the state candidates can run for office for or against one and let the voters choose. Shoving this kind of agenda down the throats of a constituency is nothing but tyranny.

    • AVR
    • Baltimore
    NYT Pick

    The elephant in the room is that the American “middle class” in not competitive in any way, shape or form in a global economy. Sustaining workers on $60/hr salaries without any education or training makes no sense and those days are over (see globalization), as are the unions who try to artificially elevate these salaries. Our kids just got their you know what’s handed to them in regard to math and science scores vs. Singapore, et al. How are they going to compete on any level without decent educations?

    If you want people to earn a living wage (and beyond), then they have to get an education.

    • Andrew
    • Syracuse, NY
    NYT Pick

    It is true that unionized laborers make more than the market can support. It is true that labor unions have given our labor force the quality of living that we enjoy. It is also true that breaking unions will result in the destroying the quality of living that Americans deem to be, well, American. This is a major failure of the unions, the people, and the captains of industry to find a better path. The unions have made themselves obsolete, and should be blamed. The people of this great country choose not to pay attention to labor issues, and choose to dumb themselves down. And the captains of industry will continue to water down the average Americans standard of living until it is murky and distasteful, much as is the situation in the rest of the world. We are becoming the United Average States of America… nothing more, nothing less.

    • hen3ry
    • New York
    NYT Pick

    Maybe the name is wrong. Right to work suggests that everyone who wants to work should be able to work. It doesn’t sound like a way to decrease union membership, fire workers at will for any reason whatsoever, or for employers to pay employees less than a decent wage.

    I was once in a union when it was corrupt. This union did not stand up for its members when we were cheated out of a raise. The union management was much more concerned with its own perks and status rather than with helping the members when there were problems at the workplace. It was a bad experience and I wouldn’t want to repeat it.

    What many younger Americans don’t realize, since it may not be taught in schools nowadays, is that we have vacations and 40 hour work weeks, and lunch breaks because of unions. We have safer workplaces because of unions. Unions did not bankrupt GM, Ford, or Chrysler. These companies did it to themselves by refusing to produce small well made cars. Remember the Chevette? Poorly made car that fell apart long before any Japanese made and designed car did back then. American workers are not at fault for the problems in American manufacturing. Management and shortsighted planning are at fault. Overcompensation of CEOs is at fault.

    If people work they should get a living wage. That wage should buy them decent housing, food, clothing, health care, and education. Companies like Walmart should not be allowed to pay so little that they force employees on to food stamps.

    • Glennmr
    • CT
    NYT Pick

    The same republicans that vote to kill unions will completely block any attempt to legislate limits on executive pay or subsides to their cronies…etc. The class war continues and will continue.

    • Paul
    • Warren
    NYT Pick

    The bill passed today will help Michigan. I see an opportunity for job growth here that’s been seen in the other “right to Work” states. How can it not? Union members only make up about 14% of the workforce here. Also, let’s face it, unions care more about the money & the political power it gives them than the union members. More companies will be willing to invest in Michigan & that means more employment and less people without jobs.

    • dc1
    • sf
    NYT Pick

    in this day and age, mandatory union membership is a negative on economic performance. for the past 20 years, right to work states have grown faster in terms of population, in gdp, and in wages (albeit coming from a lower base).

    unfortunately you can’t just click your heels and go back in time to when the usa was the only game in town. in this day and age, states have to be competitive with each other to attract business and jobs, and more importantly this country has to compete internationally. the ‘race to the bottom’ argument has no place in a debate on competing in a global economy.

    workers should have the right to choose whether to join or not join. i’d rather see more rather than fewer jobs created. holding the line on mandatory union membership can in the short run force higher wages, but at the expense of a lot fewer jobs, and less tax receipts for the state involved. i’ll take the bet on right to work states continuing to outperform right to work states any day of the week. it’s the only way to effectively compete. wages actually have less to do with it than arcane and inefficient work rules in many cases.

    • Guy Monahan
    • Brooklyn, NY
    NYT Pick

    You can have all the unemployment you want, but if the average value of all jobs goes down, even the employed suffer. Texas is a prime example of that.

    Workers living in right-to-work states earn about $1,500 less per year than workers in states without these laws. The wage penalty is even higher for women and workers of color.

    (http://www.epi.org/publication/bp299/)

    The rate of employer-sponsored health insurance for workers in right-to-work states is 2.6 percentage points lower than in states without these restrictions.

    (http://www.epi.org/publication/bp299/)

    According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is 52.9 percent higher in right-to-work states.

    (http://www.aflcio.org/issues/safety/memorial/upload/dotj_2010.pdf)

    • LG
    • Chicago
    NYT Pick

    Wow, such praise for the destruction of unions in these comments. The fundamental, yes or no line in the sand couldn’t be simpler–without the power to organize collectively without fear of arbitrary firing, harassment, garnished hours and benefits and wages, workers are left with no choice but to sit down and shut up around petty management as executive board rooms determine their livelihoods and rights for them. All the complications on top of this basic notion pale in comparison to the importance of that basic issue.

    Unions should be reformed to be truly democratic, and businesses should have the power to fire truly delinquent employees. But barring a few reforms, unions should in fact be expanded across all employment sectors. Membership should be optional; collective bargaining should be enshrined.

    • Harold Green
    • Cleveland
    NYT Pick

    Looks to me like big business has bought enough politicians and now they’re passing laws to destroy collective barganing. It won’t be long before wages begin to retreat and most companies will only hire those in their 20’s or 30’s. Companies have been moving to foreign countries for decades because of the cheap labor and lax pollution laws. The work won’t come back here until the production costs here are close to those in third world countries. If you think these laws are going to create jobs they probably will but it’s unlikely those jobs will provide the money to buy new homes, cars, send your kids to college or even pay for health insurance. Most industries are going to suffer as the average consumer can no longer afford to buy items beyond food and shelter and those same companies that fought so hard to destroy unions will see the loss of revenue and wonder how that happened. As a side note I joined a union 40 years ago. At that time one weeks wages would buy a certain level of food and shelter. After 40 years of collective bargining for wages and benefits one weeks pay would have provided less than half what a weeks pay bought when I started out. Those company destroying wages never kept up with inflation. The Japanese have gone back to building company towns and the suicide rates are climbing because the employees are feeling traped with no way to a better life. Watch for it here.

    • John
    • Yonkers, NY
    NYT Pick

    A lot of commenters do not understand the significance of this. Joining a union cannot be an individual choice because a union is only effective when it represents everyone. The idea of a union is everyone working together for their common interest. In addition, every single worker benefits from it whether they are a part of it or not. A union with only half the workforce has significantly less power when negotiating. However, any benefits they do manage to wrangle out will certainly apply to all workers whether they paid their dues or not, so expect people to start opting out to get a free ride until it collapses.

    As people leave to avoid their dues the union will fail. Then wages and benefits will freeze, maybe even reductions as there is no union left to protect the workers. At that point the union is gone and you’re in trouble. Anyone who supports and believes these businesses, but is not actually running them, is a fool. They are not there to enrich you, they are in it for themselves at your expense whenever possible. Wages and benefits for all workers is higher in states with a greater union presence, that’s a known fact.

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