As a supporter of Rick Snyder, I was upset last week to learn that he was shoving through the state legislature a right-to-work statute. And I was then incensed to learn that it was passed with an appropriation intended to make it ballot referendum-proof in a shame-duck session. As a supporter no longer, I won’t stand this legislation so contrary to the will and interests of the electorate, especially given the shameful process in which it was enacted.
This entry is not about analysing right-to-work policy (or maybe I’m busy or lazy), but I felt I would be remiss to dodge analysis altogether. So here is a report from the leftist Economic Policy Institute which I found agreed with my own prejudiced take on RTW legislation:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce points to Mississippi’s right-to-work law as a key factor making it a model for “strong pro-employment policies.” The Chamber suggests that if Michigan were more like Mississippi, it would see increased job creation and lower unemployment (U.S. Chamber of Commerce 2011).
But Michigan policymakers may want to think twice about emulating Mississippi. Even with its myriad challenges, the performance of free-bargaining Michigan is superior to that of right-to-work Mississippi. Mississippi ranks 50th—dead last—in median household income, and first in poverty, with a poverty rate 50 percent higher than Michigan’s (U.S. Census Bureau 2011). Less than 20 percent of the state’s 8th graders read at or above grade level (National Assessment of Educational Progress 2009). Mississippi also ranks first in the country in infant mortality, and 48th in doctors, with one physician for every 561 residents, compared with one for every 400 people in Michigan (U.S. Census Bureau 2011).
Whatever right-to-work advocates may promise, it’s clear that the policy has not enabled Mississippians to escape desperate conditions. It’s possible that some employers might find such a poor state attractive; but that doesn’t make it a model for Michigan.
I also basically lament how unfortuntate it is that our Snyder administration is spending its man-hours poaching jobs from other states rather than creating new jobs through investment or better management of existing resources.
Frankly, I don’t buy that Rick Snyder signed this legislation because he believed it was good for the wellbeing of the state. The data does not support it, nor do I feel he would stomach the criticism he must have anticipated in order to do the public a favor which it would only begrudge him in 2014 during the election. Further, as a prior supporter of Rick Snyder that marks him for an intelligent man, I do not believe he simply misunderstood the right-to-work literature that exists and thereby reached the wrong conclusion; he must know that its bad for the wellbeing of the Michigander, and is doing it with some other intent.
No, it is not about job creation or this notion of “workplace fairness” that is being spoonfed to the loyal GOP base. No one in the union shops had been complaining about unfairness; in other words, this bill didn’t stem from a burgeoning grassroots lobby of co-workers upset over union dues. Those people don’t exist. The bill was precipitated from the top-down by the Republican establishment, and the arguments for job creation or workplace fairness were merely convenient for damage control purposes.
The GOP’s real purpose for right-to-work in Michigan is to bankrupt the groups that are bankrolling the opposition. Yes, it is a common refrain among conservatives that unions are greedy and that their lobbying is degradative to the political process. While my more progressive friends hate this perspective of their conservative fellows, I’m inclined to agree that unions are greedy and that they do lobby extensively. I, however, believe that this is a good thing.
Unions here and abroad
Do I agree that unions are greedy? Absolutely; however, my opinion is two-fold. I do believe unions are greedy and therefore costly and bad for Michigan. It is a fact that manufacturers have off-shored jobs to dodge an expensive union labor force. However, the solution is not to eliminate unions; nor is it, as many Michigan democrats support (and much to my chagrin), protectionist policy in which taxes or other measures curb the appeal of off-shoring jobs. (Such policy would inflict its own costs to our wellbeing.)
While I may agree that unions are bad for Michigan, that is not because there are too many unions; it is because there are too few – abroad. Were the rest of the world’s labor force unionized, over time companies would be indifferent when facing labor decisions. Cost of living and wages will eventually achieve parity world-wide, and then companies will be forced to compete on other value disciplines than just the costs of labor. It is only because we are in the infancy of globalization that we face so much tribulation in the job market vis-a-vis other competing job markets. The circumstances of the day give rise to the labor cost differences that attract flighty corporations, and these circumstances will not always exist.
But you must not begrudge unions for being greedy; bargaining for middle-income earners is a virtuous task. If anything, they should be greedier: the middle class is shrinking. While you may poach some jobs and gain some measure of short-term relief from right-to-work legislation, we should not devote our resources toward busting unions nor towards curbing off-shoring; that is a step backward.
Globalization should be embraced such that global parity in wages and cost-of-living is achieved in all haste. And in the interim transition period when either the factors of land, capital, or labor are dis-advantaged from society’s moves toward trade, income should be re-distributed via progressive taxation or the welfare net to ensure everyone’s wellbeing is improved from globalization. *(People complain that income re-distribution begets freeloading, which may be true to some extent, but it is also perfectly valid that some people, e.g. auto workers, are genuinely screwed when their society votes to liberalize trade with other nations, and through no fault of their own. In a direct democracy, wouldn’t a savvy statesman bargain for these persons’ votes in order to grow everyone’s economy by promising some personal monetary reparations for when their jobs and livelihoods vanished? Absolutely. It is only in the murkiness of representative democracy that it becomes less clear who is impacted by free trade/other non-pareto increases in economic growth, and that is precisely why we need an effective safety net and a progressive taxation regime.)
So I guess that’s my nuanced perspective on unions. Yes, they are bad for Michigan. No, they should not be busted. And someday, when the workers of the world are all unionized (or perhaps achieve employee ownership by some other means), all people’s wellbeing will improve through bargaining when corporations run out of cheaper markets to flight to.
The other complaint against unions concerns their participation in the political process. I’m inclined to agree that they do lobby and that they do distort electoral and policy outcomes. Yet, I do not support busting unions for one simple reason: campaign finance has always been corrupted by non-person actors, and at least today we have both proletariat and bourgeoisie actors to (attempt to) counter-act each other.*
I’d be very pleased to see serious campaign finance reform which gutted both corporations’ and unions’ roles in the political process, but until that happens you cannot get rid of the one without irrevocably harming your republic.
Back to cynicism
Returning from that digression on unions and globalization, let me repeat: the Michigan Republican agenda is about bankrupting the opposition and perpetuating the spoils of political office. Their agenda is not motivated by concern for Michiganders’ wellbeing.
And I simply can’t stand for a political machine that enacts legislation to perpetuate itself. That is not governing. That is not stewardship. It’s a virus.
I might have swallowed my dissatisfaction with the right-to-work legislation if I had genuinely believed the Snyder administration earnestly believed it was good for the state – I’m not a single-issue voter after all –, but the shameful nature of the process only supports the conclusion that they understand that this is bad policy and that its about the baser motivations of political rule: re-election. No amendments? Drafted by ALEC? Lame-duck session? 11th hour enactment? Preempted ballot referendum? Misleading television ads? Shameful.
The Lowest Common Denominator
And finally, I wish to recount the significant lesson I learned in the right-to-work tragedy: There is no such thing as a moderate Republican. Your trust will soon be sacrificed to accommodate the more severe elements of the Republican party; the lowest common denominator.
No matter how much you may have liked moderate Mitt Romney, or how much I had approved of moderate Rick Snyder until now, a Republican administration will only serve to enable the worst legislators of the party, as we are seeing this month with absurd right-to-work, anti-abortion, and food stamp legislation.
This is just an unfortunate aspect of reality; voting for a moderate Republican is voting for an inevitable betrayal of trust. And maybe it’s not wholly their fault: the Republican party is just too chock-ful of nut jobs.
And so it follows that I, a fan of arithmetic and responsible government, am left without a fiscal conservative candidate to vote for in 2014.
I do only work thirty hours a week, so perhaps there’s a suitable Democrat out there to draft into the race and organize for in the other ten productive hours I have in a week. I’m looking.
I had truly supported Rick The Nerd, but Tricky Rick is not for me. In case anyone doubts my one-time affection for Governor Snyder, I’ve uploaded an essay I wrote in March 2011 supporting him: In Defense of Rick Snyder.
I might have supported him yet, had he only broached right-to-work legislation in daylight, say, earlier in October or later in January – I’m capable of disagreeing on one issue. But his abuses of late are shameful, and unworthy of my vote.