The right at work

Oct 10, 2007 at 12:00 am

You can do a lot of he said/she said back-and-forth statistical see-sawing when comparing positions on what the conservatives call "right to work" laws and the labor movement puts down as the "right to work for less."

First, for the folks who don't have a clue as to what the hell we're talking about, let us explain. Or, more exactly, we'll let the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, Inc. do the cluing in: A right-to-work law secures the right of employees to decide for themselves whether to join or financially support a union.

But, being of a Republican bent, they start right off deceiving. Because, as the AFL-CIO says on its Web site in bold print: "Federal law already protects workers who don't want to join a union to get or keep their jobs." What they have to do is pay union dues if they work at a unionized company, because they enjoy the higher wages and better benefits unions win for them. But these nonmembers don't have to pay for union activities that violate their religious or political beliefs.

They just can't be freeloaders when it comes to paying the Joe Hills who negotiate their contracts and protect them from workplace abuse.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let us get back to the dueling stats.

For example, you can drop in at the Web site of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan think tank that lives to sing the praises of the free market, and you will learn that states with right-to-work laws saw their gross state product increase at a rate 5 percent higher than those states that have no such laws. GSP, according to the Big Mac attack, is the "market value of all goods and services produced in a state over the course of the year." The pointy-headed types attracted to the study of economics explain that this is the most basic way to measure economic growth.

But when you return to the AFL-CIO's site, you see that "the average worker in a right to work state makes about $4,333 a year less than workers in other states." It's not all about moola and GSP, either. The number crunchers at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the union folks relay, say that workplace death rates are 51 percent higher in right-to-work states.

But you know what they say about statistics and damn lies. So forget about medians and means for a moment, and switch over to the intuitive side or your brain as you ask yourself this: Those foreign-owned auto plants in right-to-work states like Alabamy — do you think the wages and benefits they pay would be anywhere near as high if it weren't for the UAW out there setting the standard? Damn right they wouldn't be.

Now, at this point, you might rightly be wondering why were bleating on about all this. It might be because there are right to work bills sitting in our state House and Senate, but with Democratic guv Jenny G. still holding office, they hold no threat of making it into law anytime soon. And there are folks like Nolan Finley, editorial page editor of The Detroit News, occasionally out there beating the drum for national right-to-work legislation. But what really inspired us to bring all this up is a call received recently from a union type who passed on the tip that one of the national right-to-work organizations has had people sniffing around these parts testing the waters to gauge support for a possible ballot measure that would put the right to work question before voters for the 2008 presidential election.

We talked to a couple of union leaders and were told they're not looking for a fight like that, but if the right-to-workers bring it on, watch out, because labor will spare no expense beating this thing back into the ground.

Seems to us like the GOP might as well go ahead and put a gun in its mouth if right to work is being decided at the polls come next November, 'cause those union guys and gals will be out pounding on doors in numbers not seen before, urging voters to get out there and elect politicians who oppose it. And you can bet your ass they won't be the ones who have a donkey as their mascot.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]