Last week, Michigan Republicans swiftly and unexpectedly approved so-called “right to work” legislation, backtracking on a commitment made by Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI). Supporters of the effort claim that it is necessary to keep Michigan economically competitive with nearby states, such as Indiana, that have approved similar measures.
However, as the Center for American Progress’ David Madland and Nick Bunker noted, weakening labor unions via right-to-work won’t make Michigan economically stronger — it will just continue the recent hollowing out of the state’s middle class:
Over the past several decades, unions in Michigan have weakened and the middle class has been hollowed out — a trend that would significantly worsen if right-to-work became law. As Figure 1 shows, Michigan’s middle class earned 53.6 percent of the state’s income in 1979, a year when over 37 percent of the state’s workers were in unions. Today less than 18 percent of Michigan’s workers are unionized, and the middle class receives only 47 percent of the state’s income.
The Economic Policy Institute has found that “right-to-work laws cost all workers, union and otherwise, $1,500 a year in wages and that they make it harder for workers to obtain pensions and health coverage.” Workers in right-to-work states “are also significantly less likely to receive employer-provided health insurance and pensions.” Finally, directly undercutting Republican justification for passing such laws, researchers found that right-to-work laws “have not succeeded in boosting employment growth in the states that have adopted them.”