Michigan Goes Right-to-Work

LANSING, MI - APRIL 13: Thousands of union members from around the state gather at the State Capitol to protest Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget cuts April 13, 2011 in Lansing, Michigan.

Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

It’s only going to have a modest impact in the short-term, but far and away the biggest economic news of the week from a long-term perspective has got to be Michigan’s rather sudden transformation into a right-to-work state. This is noteworthy in part because, as Alec Macgillis writes, Snyder had positioned himself as more moderate than Scott Walker and other GOP governors from the class of 2010. But the legislation he’s just passed is really more far reaching than the legislation Walker signed in Wisconsin or anything that’s been discussed in Ohio.

In political terms this really does seem like the tipping point. For a long time the United States has existed as a “house divided” in this regard. Democrats in states like Virginia and Nevada didn’t seriously try to repeal right-to-work laws, while Republicans in the northeast and midwest didn’t try to implement them. But if right-to-work can pass in Michigan, then why shouldn’t Republicans press for it in Wisconsin or Ohio or Pennsylvania?

The particular political context here is that Michigan unions put an initiative on the 2012 ballot to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. That was meant to be a prophylactic measure to stop something like this from happening. But they lost, even on an Election Day when Barack Obama handily carried the state. So what was meant to be a show of political strength turned out to be a show of political weakness, with the union cause running well behind Obama and signaling that a strong anti-union move wouldn’t necessarily provoke a backlash around Michigan’s ideological median.