Yesterday Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state, although to hear the uproar you would think something unprecedented was going on. There are more than enough commentators to debate the effects on Michigan’s economy and politics, but not too many ready to discuss what it will mean for Michigan unions internally.
First, let’s not overestimate the effect, particularly when it comes to teachers’ unions. Alabama, Florida, Nevada and Idaho all have effective unions despite right-to-work laws. The biggest direct change is the inability to collect dues or agency fees from those in the bargaining unit who don’t want to pay.
There is a lot of misleading rhetoric about agency fees, illustrated by Michigan Education Association president Steve Cook, who said last week, “No one is forced to join a union – that’s already illegal. This allows workers to get out of paying their fair share of what it costs to negotiate the contract they benefit from. Whether proponents call this ‘right-to-work’ or ‘freedom-to-work’, it’s really just ‘Freedom to Freeload.’”