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Dean Baker
Published: Tuesday 18 December 2012
The real story is quite simple. We have a group of rich business owners who are willing to lie, cheat and steal to get even richer.

Michigan Republicans Deny Police Officers and Firefighters the Right to Work

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That is what the headlines would say if anyone really believed that the anti-union laws passed last week in Michigan actually had anything to do with the rights of workers. When the legislature outlawed contracts requiring workers who benefit from union representation to pay for that representation, it explicitly exempted the police and firefighters’ unions. If this law was actually about the “right to work,” the Republican legislature and Governor Snyder were effective denying the right to work to the state’s police officers and firefighters.

Of course this law has nothing to do with the right to work (RTW), as everyone involved knows; that is just the spin from the anti-labor coalition. This is why police unions and firefighters’ unions were exempted. The Republicans were trying to buy off these workers with special favors, not singling them out for punishment.

There is no issue of rights involved in this dispute. The question is whether workers, through their union, can sign a contract that imposes conditions on employment, just as the employer can impose conditions on employment.

When an employer advertises a job, it offers a specific pay and benefit package. If a worker doesn’t like that pay and benefit package no one says that she is being denied the right to work. The obvious answer is that the worker should go somewhere else.

In this case, the question is whether a union contract can require that everyone who benefits from the union’s representation to pay for that representation. (Under the law, a union is required to represent everyone in a bargaining unit, whether or not they join the union.) This is a condition of work, just like the pay and benefit package offered by the employer. And the answer for the people who don’t like a particular union, or unions in general, is that they have the right to work somewhere else.

Republicans have not suddenly developed a fondness for workers’ rights. They know the obvious. If workers are given the opportunity to freeload on the union that represents them, then some workers will take advantage of this opportunity. This will make unions weaker and therefore less effective in bargaining with management.

This weakening of unions will impose a real cost on all workers in the state, both union and non-union. Unions don’t just raise the wages of the workers who are members. Unions raise the wages of all workers, since in an environment where unions are common, employers realize that they must pay a competitive wage in order not to give workers an incentive to unionize.

recent study from the Economic Policy Institute found that even after controlling for education, experience and a wide variety of other factors, the average hourly wage in states with freedom of contract was 3.2 percent higher than in RTW states. Workers in states with freedom of contract were also much more likely to have employer-provided health care and pensions at their workplace.

If they didn’t adjust for education and other variables the wage gap between the freedom of contract and right-to-work states increased to 16 percent. Arguably this number might be a better measure of the cost of having RTW restrictions in a state since the education of the workforce is influenced by the policies pursued by state and local governments. Unions have generally been strong supporters of good public education systems. Therefore it would not be surprising if workers have better education in freedom-of-contract states. The pay premium that these workers enjoy is one of the benefits of stronger unions.

Unions also have historically also been important in promoting upward mobility among immigrantsAfrican American, and Latinos.  This effort to crush unions is also closing an important path to the middle class.

The supporters of RTW argue that by weakening the power of unions and depressing wages they will make Michigan a more attractive place to do business, which will ultimately benefit everyone, including the state’s workers. We have been testing this claim for more than 60 years. How many people would consider RTW Mississippi and Arkansas more desirable places to live than freedom-of-contract Ohio and Illinois?  

The RTW supporters might claim Mississippi and Arkansas and other RTW states started out way behind the relatively wealthy states with freedom of contract. But this has been a rather lengthy experiment; South Korea went from Sub Saharan living standards to West European living standards in a considerably shorter period of time. If RTW were some great elixir for improving living standards it clearly takes a long time to see the benefits.

The real story is quite simple. We have a group of rich business owners who are willing to lie, cheat and steal to get even richer. The greed of this elite has already had devastating consequences for the economy. But the latest attack on workers’ rights in Michigan shows that they have no intention of backing off.

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ABOUT Dean Baker
Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University. He is the author of several books, including Plunder & Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy, The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer and The United States Since 1980. He was the editor of Getting Prices Right: The Debate Over the Consumer Price Index, which was a winner of a Choice Book Award as one of the outstanding academic books of the year. He appears frequently on TV and radio programs, including CNN, CBS News, PBS NewsHour, and National Public Radio. His blog, Beat the Press, features commentary on economic reporting. He received his B.A. from Swarthmore College and his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan.

I now have the Right To Work

I now have the Right To Work for Fair Pay in Michigan. This earns me $4.51 per hour or less. I do have a room to sleep in at work. I'm indentured to pay on my student loans for life. At least I'm fortunate to have a job, at the whim of my employer, who increased insurance costs for managers equalling the 1.2% pay increase we might see in 2013. Soon I'll see social security and Medicare and get $900 after paying for the Medicare. From that I'll pay another $100 for part B. thank God this will reduce my Student Loan Indenture to $50 and leave me $750 to live on. The chained CPI will ensure that I will never keep up with the Poverty Level or inflation.

Earlier this year my state rep sent out a flyer entitled "Protecting our Seniors" as it promoted how important it was for seniors that we tax their pensions. Her committee stalled on the ACA thinking Romney would win. And now we have the right to work, and another Emergency Manager Act. The worst legislative body Michigan that money can buy.

I sure hope we go over the cliff because I don't want to see what might happen to my entitlements if they work out a deal. A few hours ago Boehner made sure defense won't be cut.

The thing that amazes me most

The thing that amazes me most is not the money supporting this crap from the top, but the mindless support that elects them from voters who screw themselves to make certain that the unions won't get more than they do. This is especially true of small minded business who don't realize that good wages support their bottom line and minimum wages (RTW) don't.

Jabba the Rove. Carl the

Jabba the Rove. Carl the Hutt. There's a striking resemblence in many ways.

BRILLIANT title. The logical

BRILLIANT title. The logical extension of the right wing's actions in Michigan--The Kochs, et al., I mean.

The history of

The history of labor/management relations has been open hostility from the very beginning. People died to secure the right to contracts. Triangle Shirt Waist fire, Ludlow, Colorado; Flint and San Francisco and on and on.

This transparent assault on the unions is just more sawing off at the knees with an eye toward their eventual dissolution. Then the kochs and the friese's and their fellow douches will have won a great battle against the unwashed masses.

If snyder is really concerned about the "right to work", I am the Queen of England.

I entered the work force in

I entered the work force in 1952, a time of Union strength. Non-union shops made a decent wage because the companies were in competition with organized companies for good workers. Today they have put the workers in competition with each other.

The reason they exempt

The reason they exempt uniformed services from the new restrictions on unions is because the legislature may need the protection of police and firefighters if and when the people revolt. It is the uniformed services that abuse the system with overtime and time and a half built into their salaries and pensions (called pension spiking). No teacher ever gets paid for overtime. Of course, they are also using divide and conquer tactics and unfortunately, most people seem happy to play along.

Don't forget the 90% of wage

Don't forget the 90% of wage pension at age 50.

This was targeting the

This was targeting the unions. Nobody else gets a pension.

GOP and its sponsors spent

GOP and its sponsors spent $billions from 1960 (after Vietnam fiasco) to come up with new vocabulary to fool the people. Contract for America was actually Contract ON America as it culminated in Dick/Bush usurpation of power by the Supreme Court and rigged elections. Then the oil/coal industry took over the energy policy and the religious right took over foreign policy in collusion with energy. The military is changed to Christian Army without public awareness, let alone, public debate. Estate tax to prevent windfall income/wealth to offsprings and transfer of generational wealth was termed DEATH tax. During Bush/Dick, large estates were passed almost intact to the new generation of aristocracy, detached from society into their pleasures and paying servants to concentrate more in their domains, using government laws. Perpetual wars are termed PEACE EFFORTS. Holding humanity hostage to fanaticism, bigotry, ignorance is termed EDUCATION. Selling massive quantities of arms and ammunition internally/externally is deemed securing FREEDOM. Calling unbridled expenditure by the super wealthy to steal elections is called freedom of SPEECH. Robbing the public blind with bad harmful products, faulty advertising, deregulation is termed FREE ENTERPRISE.... Why single out only RIGHT TO WORK? You should go beyond the mask and unmask all the NEWSPEAK.

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