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Two years later, what effect has "right to work" had on Michigan?

Dec 10, 2014

Credit David Shane / Flickr

It's been two years since hordes of people descended on the state Capitol to protest the passage of "right-to-work" legislation in the lame-duck session.

Lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder argued it was only fair that union workers decide whether they actually wanted to pay dues to the union. They also said businesses would move to Michigan if it became a right-to-work state. Labor leaders and others called it a ploy to weaken unions and Democrats.

So what have we seen in the two years since right to work came to Michigan? 

Patrick Anderson, CEO of Anderson Economic Group, and Charles Ballard, an economics professor at Michigan State University, both say not much has changed. They say the power of organized labor in the state has been in a steady decline now for the last five decades.

Ballard says 50 years ago, 45% of Michigan workers were unionized. Today, that number is at 16% – the same rate it was when the right-to-work law passed.

Ballard also notes the lack of evidence confirming that the passage of the right-to-work law has led to an increase in job creation within the state. He says this is due to the fact that right-to-work wasn’t a sudden shift, but merely a ratification of what had been going on for a long time.

Ballard says the cases made by both sides when the law passed were overblown. Anderson agrees, noting this year’s midterm elections and the complete lack of attention right to work garnered from politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Anderson says the message right to work ultimately sends is that Michigan has become a much friendlier state for employers. He says it will take some time before we start to see the effects of the law. 

Listen to Patrick Anderson and Charles Ballard discuss the right-to-work law above.