Last month, a special session of the Michigan legislature passed and Governor Rick Snyder (R–MI) signed right-to-work legislation, which outlaws compulsory union membership. “This simply means that workers will no longer be forced to join a union,” noted Ed Feulner, president of The Heritage Foundation, at the time. “They will still be free to do so, if they wish.”
But while the legislative vote happened within the course of a few weeks, it capped a process that built up over many years. Michigan businessman Dick DeVos, a former Republican candidate for governor, led the effort to make Michigan a right-to-work state. He told an audience at The Heritage Foundation that the job involved three phases.
Phase One: Defeating Proposal 2. This pro-union measure was on the state ballot in November. It said that no existing or future laws could “abridge, impair or limit” the ability of state workers to reach agreements about work conditions. This would have given labor unions unprecedented power to write the rules that govern state employees. The proposal was crushed at the polls, losing 58 percent–42 percent.
Phase Two: Passing Right-to-Work Legislation. “The dynamics of the December session proved to be a positive,” DeVos says, noting that it was important for lawmakers to act quickly once there was a consensus. “Time is deadly. Time kills all deals,” he said.
Phase Three: Protecting the Law. The reform project isn’t finished yet, because Michigan’s unions are still powerful and are likely to fight back in a variety of ways. So phase three is already underway, DeVos says.
Supporters must still work to protect Michigan’s reform from legal challenges, fight against potential recall of legislators who voted for the bill, uphold the reform measure when it’s challenged in the 2014 legislative elections, and defeat a potential ballot measure that would repeal the reform.
“No one should be forced to join any organization to keep a job,” DeVos says. His home state of Michigan has taken a big step in the right direction. The years ahead will determine if it can remain on the right road.
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