West Michigan Policy Forum Part III: Freedom to Work means Right to Work
One of the major themes of the afternoon at the West Michigan Policy Forum was the issue of making Michigan a Right to Work state. Vedder and the West Michigan Policy Forum both framed Right to Work as Freedom to Work, which fits into their philosophical belief that freedom is equated with free market capitalism. In addition to teaching at Ohio University, Vedder is on the Board of Scholars at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Vedder also co-authored a report on the benefits of Right to Work for the state of Indiana, just months before that state adopted such a policy.
The first presenter on this theme was Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio University. Vedder began by saying that his father was the head of the Michigan Democratic Party and that he grew up with great sympathy for labor unions. However, Vedder said that the data suggests that unions are no longer good for the economy and he believes that particularly “forced unionization” is bad for the economy and globalization.
Vedder then spent time talking about the growing number of Right to Work states and the reasons for that increase. Vedder states that Michigan has been suffering because of a lack of a Right to Work policy, with major flight by people due to lack of employment. However, Vedder failed to mention the amount of job loss that was due to trade policies such as NAFTA (MI lost 287,923 manufacturing jobs alone) and trends in globalization, where numerous corporations in Michigan found it more profitable to set up manufacturing operations in countries like China.
Vedder then talked about Indiana’s decision to become a Right to Work state and how there has been an increase of companies now moving to Indiana. This is in part because of the decrease in labor costs, since the lack of union jobs prevents workers from the ability to bargain collectively for things like wages.
Vedder was followed by Joseph Lehman, President and CEO, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Lehmen was introduced by John Kennedy, the CEO of Autocam. Kennedy derided unions in his introductory comments and referred to what unions do as larceny.
Lehmen talked about his own background and his first experiences with organized labor. Lehmen admitted that he was actually given a scholarship from the teachers union in order to go to college.
Lehmen then attempted to differentiate between what businesses are and what unions are. His main claim is the main difference is that the government intervenes on behalf of unions, whereas they don’t in business. This seems to dismiss the whole history of US government intervention in the economy to benefit businesses, with tax break and subsidies.
Lehmen then put up a graph that he believes represents the spectrum of government intervention in organized labor. The Mackinac Center CEO then said that the worst manifestation of government intervention into organized labor, was allowing government workers to unionize.
Lehmen showed a second graphic and referred to unions as a monopoly, which in turn makes governments a monopoly. There is some truth to this second graph, especially when it comes to labor influencing electoral politics, but Lehmen never acknowledged the vastly larger amounts of money that corporations spend to influence elections.
Lehmen tells the audience that the real challenge around organized labor is at the state level and unionized state employees. None of what Lehmen shared was new in terms of the political analysis that the Mackinac Center promotes, but it is useful information in terms of what battles working class people will be fighting in the months and years to come.