The debate over Right to Work legislation has spilled out from the State Capitol and onto the state’s airwaves.
Michigan Freedom Fund is backing both TV and radio ads supporting passage of RTW.
Michigan Freedom Fund was organized as the "Atlas Strike Fund," a 501(c)(4) corporation with the state last month by Eric Doster of the law firm Foster Swift in Lansing. Several weeks later, the name was changed to Michigan Freedom Fund and a Trevor Pittsley was named as vice president. Pittsley is identified on his linkedin page as the manager of Doster's campaign for the court of appeals in 2008. Doster's profile page on Foster Swift's website says he is the longest serving general counsel of the state Republican Party in history.
Questionable statement: “Choice. We cherish it. And there’s a plan to protect our freedom in Michigan. It’s called freedom to work. Because joining a union or not joining should be your choice.”
That’s the opinion of organizations such as the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce that want to make Michigan the 24th Right to Work state. The ad presumes to speak for workers, but presents no evidence that workers want a say in whether they should be required to join unions in workplaces governed by labor contracts.
Under federal law, workers don’t have to join unions in workplaces that have union labor contracts. But they do have to pay dues or a fee.
Questionable statement: “And choosing not to join shouldn’t cost you your job. It’s about fairness and empowering workers. More control over your employment and your pocketbook.”
Michigan law allows companies and unions to collect dues or fees from a worker after the first 30 days of employment, said Robert McCormick, a Michigan State University law professor. An employee can be terminated for not paying those dues or fees.
But workers pay dues in exchange for a variety of union benefits, including collective bargaining for wages, benefits and working conditions. Those things arguably empower workers, as well.
Questionable statement: “Under freedom to work, workers can keep what they earn instead of being forced to pay dues to political causes they don’t support. That’s a choice we deserve.”
Workers already have that choice under federal law, which allows them to prevent their dues from being spent on purposes other than collective bargaining, McCormick said.
Questionable statement: “And freedom to work will mean more jobs, making Michigan more attractive to new businesses. New jobs moving Michigan forward. That’s freedom to work.”
The contention that RTW will lead to a more jobs and business investment is the central stated contention of those supporting the measure. But the evidence of that is much in dispute. Supporters have produced studies showing higher job growth in RTW states, while opponents say other studies show wages and benefits are less in RTW states. They call RTW “Right to Work for less.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 13 of the 18 states with the largest declines in the unemployment rate over the past year were RTW states.
Some economists say RTW states also are attractive to workers and businesses because of non-RTW factors, including better weather, lower energy costs and fewer government regulations.
But RTW states are among the poorest states, as measured by per capita personal income. Eight of the 10 states with the lowest per capita income in 2011 were RTW states. Seven of the top 10 states in per capita income were non-RTW states.
Questionable statement: “What won’t change? Collective bargaining remains a federally protected right. Freedom to work safeguards workers’ rights to bargain collectively.”
Private sector workers have collective bargaining rights under federal law, but those rights are not extended to public workers. The ad says RTW safeguards workers’ rights to bargain collectively, but that might not be the case for public workers, depending on the language of any final version of a Right to Work law.
Overall impression: The Michigan Freedom Fund's president is Greg McNeilly, the former executive director of the Michigan GOP and manager of Dick DeVos’s failed gubernatorial campaign in 2006.
The ad makes inaccurate and misleading claims. While it’s true that workers can be fired for refusing to pay dues or fees in a closed union shop, the union dues provide them with economic benefits that include bargaining for wages, benefits and working conditions. And union members can choose to not have their dues used for political purposes under federal law.
The ad claims RTW protects collective bargaining rights, but it’s actually federal law that protects those rights for private sector workers.
Michigan Freedom Fund claims that RTW will bring more jobs and business investment to Michigan. But it cites no evidence for that claim, which masks an unspoken reason the fund and others are pushing RTW: to strip political power from labor unions that usually back Democratic candidates and causes.
Foul or no foul: Technical foul. Workers in closed union shops don’t have to finance union political activity. The ads also imply that RTW status, by itself, leads to job growth. There’s plenty of uncertainty in economic circles on that claim.