Federal Politics

Published — December 12, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

ALEC’s decades of ‘right-to-work’ effort pay off in Michigan

Think tank’s 32-year ‘right-to-work’ campaign succeeds in union stronghold

Introduction

Amid protests by labor unions, and objections from the state’s congressional delegation and even the president, Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed a “right-to-work” bill into law Tuesday, drawn word-for-word from a 32-year-old “model bill” pushed by a corporate-funded, conservative think tank.

The legislation deals a severe blow to organized labor in a state that has the fifth-highest union density in the country, and it marks the revival of an effort long promoted by the influential American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that has seen its share of controversy recently.

Since 1973, ALEC has hosted corporate-sponsored meetings where state legislators and lobbyists meet behind closed doors to write and vote on model legislation. In a 1992 annual report, the free-market think tank boasted that it “provides the private sector an unparalleled opportunity” to influence state legislation.

One of its first priorities was passage of “right-to-work” laws, which now exist in 24 states. The 16 states with the lowest union density in the country have right-to-work laws, mostly in the American South and West, while the 13 states with the highest union density do not, until this week.

‘Forced unionism’

In a publication celebrating its 25th year, ALEC said it “began striking out against forced unionism and for the right to work in 1979.” ALEC members endorsed the law as model legislation and began introducing it in states in 1980.

Federal law prohibits workplaces from requiring employees to belong to a union and pay dues. However, employees, be they union members or not, may still enjoy the benefits of a union-negotiated contract.

While labor organizations cannot compel workers to join the union, they can require workers at a unionized workplace to pay an “agency fee” to cover the cost of negotiating contracts on a worker’s behalf.

Unions argue that these fees, which are less than membership dues, prevent “free riders” who would reap the benefits of union representation without chipping in.

Right-to-work laws ban this arrangement, creating “open shops,” where new employees at a workplace that is unionized do not have to join the union, pay dues or pay the lesser agency fee.

Back to work

At its November conference in D.C., ALEC members on the Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force voted to re-endorse 55 pieces of model legislation it has passed over the years, including the “right-to-work” bill, according to documents released by the liberal watchdog group Common Cause.

Since 2010, members of the task force have included some of the nation’s largest non-union and anti-union companies, including McDonalds, Wal-Mart, Bank of America and MillerCoors. All four of the companies quit the organization this year after ALEC faced scrutiny for its sponsorship of voter ID legislation.

Though long on ALEC’s agenda, “right-to-work” has been a tough sell in the states for decades. Since ALEC created the model legislation, only four states have passed it into law. In 1992, ALEC members introduced the bill in 11 state legislatures, including Michigan.

None of them passed.

In 1995, ALEC reported that its legislator-members introduced the bill in nine states, but again none passed new laws, according to ALEC annual reports. Idaho passed the law in 1985, but no state would pass it again until 2001, when 54 percent of Oklahomans approved a “right-to-work” constitutional amendment. The text of the Oklahoma law matched, word-for-word, that of ALEC’s model bill.

In 2012, a slew of ALEC members sponsored the bill in Indiana, which Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law in February.

Key parts of the Michigan law are identical to the text in the ALEC model bill.

Snyder flip flop

Michigan’s governor reversed his stance on what he had repeatedly called a “divisive” law that was not on his agenda. But last week, hours before the bill introduced, Snyder announced he would sign a bill if it arrived on his desk.

In a press conference, Snyder said the measure would help the state compete with “right-to-work” Indiana by enticing businesses to set up shop in a state plagued by the sustained flight of manufacturing jobs. He also passed the microphone to three “real Michigan workers” who gave support for the law. Hours later, the Michigan House and Senate, in a lame duck session, made a preliminary vote to approve the legislation without committee hearings.

At the time, Michigan state police locked protesters out of the state Capitol building in violation of a court order, while legislators prepared to vote. Some of Michigan’s Democratic state representatives briefly walked off the floor of the House chamber in protest.

When the Legislature reconvened a few days later to take final votes on the bills, which will apply to both public and private sector workers, thousands of pro-union protesters met them at the Capitol. After House members approved the bills, some began a sit-in at Gov. Snyder’s Lansing office, urging a veto.

Failed referendum

The “right-to-work” measure comes after 57 percent of Michigan voters rejected a union-backed ballot initiative in November which would have made “right-to-work” laws unconstitutional. Union membership in the state has dropped significantly since 1989, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A month later, the measure’s opponents mobilized. The Chamber of Commerce, which backed a $26 million effort to sink the ballot initiative, endorsed the “right-to-work” bill soon before it was introduced in the Legislature.

The Michigan chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a national organization funded by the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch (who are also backers of ALEC), pitched a tent on the Capitol lawn that broadcast speeches by former President Ronald Reagan.

A nonprofit group called Michigan Freedom Fund cropped up in November. Run by an adviser to former Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos of the Amway family fortune, the group bought radio and television ads supporting the bills in December.

Another supporter of “right-to-work” laws on the ALEC Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force is a Michigan-based think tank called the Mackinac Center. Mackinac’s Director Michael LaFaive wrote in December that the center has been pushing “right-to-work” laws since 1990.

In 2007, Mackinac released a “model” constitutional amendment for the law, which mirrored the text of the ALEC model bill.

Opponents and proponents disagree about the economic impact of the laws.

A study by the liberal Economic Policy Institute reports that right-to-work laws push down wages for all workers in a state “by an average of $1,500 per year” and that the rate of employer-sponsored health coverage was 2.6 percent lower in states with the law.

If Michigan adopted a “right-to-work” law, it would lead to lower wages, less access to health insurance and weakened pension benefits, wrote University of Oregon professor Gordon Lafer in a report on the potential impact of the law in Michigan.

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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

jan v
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jan v

all the lobbyists are running all our government agencies and all the career civil servants who know how to run the country have been fired. YOU think this is a good thing ? what a crock…

thomas alessi
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thomas alessi

I am for Trump

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.