On Tuesday, the Michigan Legislature approved a right-to-work bill that critics say could break the back of organized labor in the state. Later that day, despite vociferous protests from pro-union activists, Governor Rick Snyder (R) signed the bill into law.
The new law makes Michigan, the cradle of the auto industry, the 24th state in the country where employees are not required to pay union dues if they don't personally belong to a union -- a measure that supporters say will attract new businesses to the area, but which critics say will weaken unions' finances and cripple their bargaining power with managers.
On Monday evening, we asked HuffPost readers in Michigan what they thought of the then-bill. Over the next 24 hours, we got an amazing volume of responses, with readers expressing both strong approval of the bill and robust opposition to it. We rounded up a number of reader letters in a post Tuesday morning, but the emails are still coming in, so we wanted to offer a fuller picture of what our Michigan readers are saying.
First of all, the numbers: In a little more than a day, we received a total of 48 emails expressing support for the right-to-work bill and 126 emails from people who opposed it. That means the ratio we mentioned in our earlier post -- two people in favor for every five against -- still holds up.
Of the people who said they welcome the bill, most added that they expect a healthier job market will soon follow. "This will help the Midwest in bringing in new companies," one person wrote. "[It will] improve my chances of getting a job," wrote another, simply. "Our home values have gone down 40-60% in the last three years," a third reader told us, from the Flint suburb of Davison. "Businesses will now come back to our state and create jobs." And a fourth reader called the bill "the best thing that ever happened to Michigan labor," adding that it "will create more jobs and less high-paid do-nothing union positions."
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For others, the passage of a right-to-work law will bring more immediate benefits. "This means I don't have to pay union dues," one person told us, sounding relieved. Another reader echoed the sentiment:
As a union person, I am tired of my union dues going to help the troublemakers keep their jobs and union officials with their own agenda. You sit on committees and the committee votes on endorsing something or someone and then the union muckie-mucks totally do what they want. Union presidents get their families jobs, and then get promotions, without the jobs [having been] posted. Then when it comes to layoffs, they all of a sudden have more seniority than everyone else.
I am paying more and more of my insurance benefits, and what are the union officials getting? Full benefits at my expense.
At one time the unions were for the working person. Now they are all out for their own interests. In this day and age, I would rather put the $54.00 per month in dues into my deferred comp. At least I might get something in return.
Other readers expressed discomfort with the idea of unions themselves, saying that labor groups wield too much power in Michigan and put a damper on employee autonomy. One reader told us:
I think the right-to-work bill is right on. It will open jobs up to non-union workers and take away collective bargaining from workers who choose not to participate. When I was unwillingly part of a union, I had to choose between being a "scab" during job actions and work slowdowns which were odious to me and totally against my work ethic, or getting threats and pressure from union representatives. I ended up quitting the job, even though I loved the work, because I didn't want to be part of collective bargaining negotiations. I just wanted to do my job and earn a raise, not based on the bargaining, but based on my own good work. That was not an option for me. Maybe now it will be.
Another reader had this to say:
From someone born in Detroit over 60 years ago, and grown amid the oligarchy of unions: Diminishing the powers of the arrogant, irresponsible, extortionist unions is welcome and overdue. Any useful functions they may have once performed were overtaken by federal laws and regulations decades ago. They are now an unaffordable anachronism inhibiting global competition, innovation, and true progress.
And several readers took a libertarian perspective:
Every individual deserves the right to choose whether or not they wish to join a union. Individuals should not have to join a union just to be able to have a job.
Still others argued that outsized union influence is holding back the economy:
The unions have taken what was once a good premise of protection from unfair labor practices and turned it into a mass of unsustainable entitlements. The right to work bill is necessary, fair, and sustainable. The unions have become so expensive and powerful that they are strong-arming small business into bankruptcy. The United States needs thriving small businesses, and the union makes its employees so expensive and unproductive that the small companies are unable to afford this.
The readers who opposed the bill, on the other hand, say nothing good will come of it for Michigan's middle class. A number of people we heard from said that any new jobs created by right-to-work probably won't be all that great.
The GOP says this will attract jobs -- sure, $8.00-an-hour jobs.
Several others spoke of the ripple effects that could follow if the new law leads to a weakening of union power and a general stagnation of wages. A reader in Harrison Township, Macomb County, told us:
I am retired. This bill will not have a direct impact on me. It will have MANY indirect impacts on me and my wife. Lower wages have traditionally followed in states that have 'right to work.' [When people have] less money to spend, it will affect every aspect of my life. Many medical providers will have large losses because people will have less insurance. My home equity has taken a tremendous hit already. Now with people having less to spend on housing, the resale value of my home will go down again. The list of domino effects that I will receive is beyond my imagination.
My husband is a dentist, and his practice is in a heavy union area. Most of his patients have dental work done because they have dental insurance, negotiated through their union contract. With "right to work," those benefits are likely to be lost, as is our income. Many people don't understand that EVERYONE in Michigan works for the auto industry, either directly or indirectly -- like us.
A third reader told us that pay scales are likely to wither:
I get hired by a lot of people who are union, and they get a discount by hiring me through their union benefits. The same benefit is offered to non-union people, since the non-union shops have to compete with the union shops on pay and benefits to get the good workers. Every worker that I know in a non-union shop will admit that their pay is what it is because of the union shops.
These worries were echoed by a reader from Grand Rapids:
I’ve worked as a manufacturing engineer in west Michigan for over 20 years. Although I have never worked at a union shop, I can attest that they help hold up the wages for all the workers, including us salaried types, at all the other manufacturing shops around here. We find there is a ‘floor’ to pay scales thanks to the power of collective bargaining being exercised for even 10% of the workers in Michigan. “Right to work,” a misnomer if I ever heard one, will start chipping away at everyone’s wages, and ultimately feed back into a vicious cycle of economic slowdown due to lack of cash flow.
Another reader expressed concern for public employees:
I, like everyone else in the state, depend on people like teachers, firemen, policemen, nurses, [and] other public workers for our safety and services, and I strongly believe that they need a union to help them bargain for benefits and decent wages, since they are still not paid what they deserve. I fear that the current attempts to destroy the unions will result in the loss of the best among them. Their salaries and benefits will be cut and many will not be able to support their families and will be pushed into other jobs, or out of state. Do we really want to place our lives and our children's education into the hands of people paid Walmart wages?
A reader in DeWitt said the law won't do anything to empower the little guys:
What affects me is the failure to conduct hearings and have open discussion on the topic. While I spent eight years of my 43 working years in a union, I respect that unions have a place in business to counteract owners and CEOs who have little respect for families, personal situations and individual needs. Unions often provide a measure of civility that non-union companies acknowledge when crafting work rules and performance standards for their workers.
And some people said they simply felt uneasy about the way the bill seemed to be quickly ushered through a state legislature about to lose several Republican seats in January:
I am a 33-year Michigan resident. I don't know if right-to-work is good or bad for Michigan. What troubles me, as an independent voter, is the way the measure is being enacted, in a rush with little discussion and little time for Michigan residents to understand the issue and influence the outcome. I voted for Rick Snyder for governor, and I have admired, until now, his ability do good things for Michigan and stay above the political fray. I expect this kind thing from Michigan's legislature. I didn't expect it from our governor, and his complicity in the political maneuver, whether ultimately right or wrong for our state, has diminished him in my opinion.