By PAUL ABOWD, Center for Public Integrity—Amid protests by labor unions, and objections from the stateʼs congressional delegation and even the president, Michiganʼs Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed a “right-to-work” bill into law in December 11, 2012, drawn word-for-word from a 32-year-old “model bill” pushed by a corporate-funded, conservative think tank.
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.
Right-To-Work Vs. ʻForced Unionismʼ
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 right-to-work 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 workerʼs 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.