Right-to-work in Michigan: Is there a middle ground?

Dec 10, 2012

One thing I know about politically polarizing issues: arguing for middle-of-the-road positions alienates a lot of folks.

But here goes anyway.

I don’t love unions.

And I feel I can say that with some authority, given that as an employee of several media companies, I’ve been a member of three of them.

In every case, I felt unions were so concerned about protecting territory, that they were, at times, anti-progressive, and too often in the business of preserving their power.

I couldn’t touch equipment.

I was prevented from developing technical skills I would have been wise to learn.

Later in my career, when I worked at non-union shops, I was glad that, if I wanted to try something new, I could.

Now, that may seem like a funny way for me to argue that right-to-work laws are a bad idea, but that’s where I’m going with this.

You see, I wasn’t a huge fan of management either.

As a worker, I often felt in the middle.

Yes, unions had their downsides, but they also increased my wages and they acted as a counter force against corporate managers who, unchecked, would disregard the interests of working people.

As much as we’re going to hear this week about the fight between organized labor and Michigan Republicans, I think it’s fair to point out there are people like me who are in the middle.

We want balance between unions and bosses.

Let me put it this way: I voted against Proposal 2 - the ballot question that would have established collective bargaining rights as part of Michigan’s constitution.

I was tempted to vote yes, because the union busting tactics of governors like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker struck me as an overreach intended to disempower Democrats.

But a constitutional amendment seemed too far in one direction.

For me, the same logic applies to right-to-work laws.

It’s too much.

Consider that in Michigan we have a violent union history.

We’re the place where Walter Reuther’s organizers and Henry Ford’s security guards faced off in the “Battle of the Overpass” in Detroit.

But over time, we made strides and established a model for balance.

More than anywhere, we know that when both sides share in power, that benefits the middle class.

When one side gets too much, companies or workers suffer.

Look, I get it. Right-to-work laws sound reasonable.

Why shouldn’t workers have the choice to decide if they want to join the union or not?

But the reality is, if workers choose to organize, what incentive would members have to stay in unions and pay dues if they don’t have to?

Proponents of right-to-work laws know this.

The result is unions would be so weakened they would probably fade away.

I also think organized labor could do a much better job of changing a culture of entitlement that, for some of us, has been a turn off.

They can overreach too.

At the end of the day, our state is better off when both sides overreach less and cooperate more.

And something tells me that’s what Michigan voters really want.