Was The Michigan Labor Fight Worth The Risk?

Conservatives are celebrating today, as the state of Michigan has passed so-called “right-to-work” legislation aimed at undermining the labor unions in the private sector. In the most labor-friendly of states, a Republican statehouse passed the bill and a GOP governor signed it. But is this really something worth celebrating?

There are two facets of concern I have with this bill. The first is the substantive, which is that I just think it’s a bad idea. The legislation means that workers at a union shop are able to opt out of paying dues, even as they reap the benefits of union-negotiated contracts, and I fail to see how that meets any test of fairness.

Have GOP actions in Michigan set their presidential prospects back further, jeopardizing more important causes?

I understand there are unions that are incompetent or corrupt, and if an employee wants to vote against unionization that’s absolutely their right and they should be able to have the opportunity to cast that vote and do it by secret ballot, free of coercion. But if the company as a whole votes to unionize, whether that decision is enlightened or stupid is not the question—it’s the vote the workers made and the fairest thing to do is to have everyone play by the same rules.

But whether you agree or disagree with this law, I would hope that Catholics who oppose Obama would see this in its broader context. We already saw the president’s re-election campaign win almost every state in the Midwest—Indiana being the only exception. Is picking a fight with organized labor really going to put the Republican nominee over the top in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota four years from now?

So for the moment, let’s say you like this new labor law in Michigan—is it so important to you that you’d risk strengthening the political Left in all these battleground states? We have issues like the future of the HHS mandate that threatens to force Catholic hospitals into a conundrum of conscience. There’s the future of marriage in the United States. There is the question of resisting ObamaCare, which is now moving to the state levels. Think of any issue that troubled you at this time six weeks ago, as we were getting ready to vote—did labor law even rank in the top ten? So why would this be the hill to die on?

If there’s a Catholic conservative who genuinely feels that, short of the right to life, labor law is about as important a topic as there is, then I’d respect why you’d want to take this stand. I’d still disagree with you on substance, as noted above, but I’d get why you’d risk future electoral defeat. But for anyone else, why is this your fight?

Maybe it won’t matter. Perhaps the Republicans will nominate a telegenic candidate in 2016 that can outmaneuver whomever the Democratic opponent is, and win the presidential election anyway. Maybe issues like gun control or national security—where the rank-and-file of organized labor trends more conservative—will assume greater prominence in the next few years and the GOP can win their votes in spite of what happened yesterday in Michigan. But that’s a pretty big gamble isn’t it?



  • James Stagg

    I recommend you read this article before hardening your opinion on this subject:


    I do agree with you that the Right to Life is the most important task we have to work towards. 4,000 new entrants into heaven today cry out for justice….justice denied them here in the US just this one day.

    But, I also feel it is necessary to make small steps before we try great leaps……while we STILL do our needed pro-life work. Two of those small steps are:

    1. Allow people the freedom to join or not join unions. That itself is a basic lesson in liberty, one of the three aims in the Declaration. I have worked in both environments; believe me, non-union is better for the individual (performance pay and promotions) as well as for the employers (work scheduling flexibility, plus the ability to terminate non-productive or disruptive employees). I’m sure you heard of the recent reinstatement of the Chrysler workers fired for goofing off.

    2. By limiting unions the ability to coerce dues, which are then used to promote basically Democrat ideological positions, we limit the ability for the Democrat Party to be funded to continue its pro-death programme: contraception, abortion and euthanasia, not to mention its direct attack on families (gay marriage, etc.).

    So, you see that this small step to promote and pass RTW laws in more states cuts at a major source of funding for the anti-life programme. Though not EQUAL in moral terms, RTW laws wind up promoting a desirable pro-life agenda.

    Now, our efforts must also be to promote and PROTECT a pro-life agenda for the Republican Party, rather than back away from it, as evidenced in this presidential election. That will take some serious work.

    Peace be with you.

  • Richard Chonak

    There’s nothing automatic about giving non-union employees the same deal as union-contract employees, is there? And if it happens, we should remember Jesus’ words in the parable: “Are you envious because I am generous?”

    • naturgesetz

      Under labor laws, as I learned them, a union is required to represent all the employees in its “bargaining unit,” not just union members. (The bargaining unit can be an entire company or those who do certain kinds of work, or those who work at certain locations, etc.) When a union has been elected, it would be an unfair labor practice — illegal — for it to negotiate only on behalf of its members. OTOH, non-members can’t expect help with individual grievances against management.



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