This guest post is provided courtesy of my husband Peter, a social studies/math teacher at a charter high school in Central California. He is in his 18th year of teaching in both public and private schools in Texas, Arizona, and California; he is also in his third official year of homeschooling. He is a lifelong Catholic, and a talented mineral collector and family historian/genealogist.
It blows my mind that Michigan, of all states, may pass a right-to-work law. I hope that it does, of course, just as I wish that California had such a law. At times in our history, unions have done great things for workers, especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when most legal protection for workers did not yet exist. But I really do believe that we need to get over this notion today, left over from those earlier years, that unions are somehow sacred, like churches, and that their moral virtue and necessity are thus dogmas that cannot be questioned. Any objective study of unions easily reveals that they are often led by people who are personally corrupt and whose own agendas clash with the real interests of their rank-and-file members. And, of course, their unabashed and aggressive political partisanship – regardless of the views of their individual members – shows a basic lack of respect for who their members are and how they think.
I work in an occupation that is largely unionized, and it sickens me to see teacher unions in other districts in this area openly preferring that cash-strapped districts lay off large numbers of younger teachers rather than make what are actually small cuts in benefits for those teachers who keep their jobs. How does that constitute the kind of defense of workers that unions claim to universally support? It seems to me that, while they serve some useful function today, unions have largely become a new sort of oligarchic elite, comprised of people who wish to restrict further entry into their field (lest the “pie” of wealth have to be split too many ways) and who are led by political activists who often enjoy rather lavish lifestyles as they steer union policy towards whatever will most benefit themselves and their political bedfellows (see: the Hostess collapse). Activists who oppose laws like the one that Michigan may soon pass couch the debate in terms of moral struggle, but what the union leaders are really afraid of is a dramatic drop in their personal clout and status.
Apart from all of these considerations, what Michigan is doing is simply a matter of practical sense. The fact is that states with right-to-work laws are doing a better job of attracting and keeping businesses (and hence jobs) than those without, and states like Michigan need to join the former crowd if they wish to catch up.