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Bucking Colorado’s example, could Michigan soon adopt right-to-work?

By | December 3rd, 2012

When it comes to freedom of association, Colorado workers soon may have good reason to envy their Michigan counterparts. The Washington Times recently reported some developing momentum for a Right-to-Work law in the Great Lakes State:

The possible push in the state Legislature’s lame-duck session has already sparked a battle, as a coalition of about 300 AFL-CIO members as well as a contingent from the state police descended on the Statehouse in Lansing on Thursday to lobby lawmakers against a measure they fear could dramatically limit their influence.

Big Labor is trying to nip the effort to empower non-union workers in the bud, organizing vocal pressure before a bill even has been introduced. Before the recent elections, there was no imminent sign of workplace freedom moving forward.

As the Detroit Free Press notes, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder “has repeatedly said right-to-work is not on his agenda.” But union-backed Proposition 2, a failed statewide initiative that sought to enshrine collective bargaining guarantees in the state constitution, clearly antagonized a reluctant Snyder.

The dynamic somewhat resembles what unfolded in Colorado five years ago. Except it was a pro-labor action by a governor — Bill Ritter’s November 2007 executive order laying out the union red carpet to state government — that led to the business-backed Amendment 47 Right-to-Work ballot initiative the following year. Along with two other initiatives threatening union power, Amendment 47 went down to flaming defeat under a multi-million dollar Big Labor barrage.

Colorado’s Labor Peace Act long has provided a unique middle legal ground between the 22 Right-to-Work states (where employees cannot be coerced into paying union dues or fees) and 27 forced-unionism states where a single workplace vote can compel “agency fee” tribute from non-union members. In Colorado, a second separate workplace vote, by a supermajority of eligible employees, is needed before non-members can be forced to pay agency fees. (Colorado teachers, however, have right-to-work protections.)

Apart from Amendment 47, there have been several attempts in recent years to enact Right-to-Work and upset the Labor Peace Act. Republican lawmakers have introduced the proposal on more than one occasion. With the Democrats now in control of both Colorado legislative chambers, no one seriously expects the idea to gain traction here in the next couple years.

But what about Michigan?

Enacting Right-to-Work in the birthplace of the United Auto Workers (UAW) wouldn’t quite have the same symbolic impact as Scott Walker’s reforms in the first state to empower government unions. Nor would one expect it to create the same level of intense hysterics. But its significance for the national worker freedom movement would be difficult to overestimate.

Just probably not anytime soon in Colorado. As a Michigan native transplanted to the Centennial State, I never would have thought it might unfold this way. If union leaders succeed in pushing back the unfolding legislative effort, though, neither state would be likely to see a change any time soon.

[Cross-posted from Mount Virtus.]

[Above, a Fox 47 News report on right-to-work in Michigan. Below is a video from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy on "What is right-to-work?"]

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