"Freedom to Work" and Creating More and Better Jobs in Michigan


Date: Dec. 7, 2012
Issues: Labor Unions

Michigan is making a comeback thanks to hardworking women and men, business owners, entrepreneurs, students and professionals of all kinds. But for us to succeed, we have to remain competitive. That's why I believe we should make Michigan a freedom-to-work state.

But before I explain more about the "why," first allow me to explain what this proposal for workplace fairness and equality is all about.

What Freedom to Work Does

Today in Michigan, workers who choose not to pay union dues can lose their jobs under some union contracts. In other words, if they want to work, they have to join a union and pay dues, which can amount to one to two percent of their wages.

Under freedom to work, Michiganders will have the freedom to choose whether or not to join a union. They won't be forced to pay union dues if they don't want to, and they won't lose their jobs because of it. And if they want to pay dues voluntarily, they have the freedom to do that, too.

There's one thing this proposal for workplace fairness and equality does not do, though. It does not end collective bargaining in Michigan. That bears repeating. Under freedom to work, Michiganders still have a guaranteed right to collective bargaining, as protected in federal law. What's more, this proposal has no impact on police or fire unions.

Michigan has a great history of collective bargaining, and I'm proud to have collectively bargained with state employees twice as governor. We owe much to the labor movement -- the end of child labor, the 40-hour work week, safe working conditions in factories, and a guaranteed minimum wage. The labor movement is an important part of Michigan's fabric, and nothing about this proposal eliminates it.

But we also have another great history in our state and our country, and that's the freedom of association -- it's the constitutional right upon which workers' ability to organize as unions is founded. Implicit in that right, though, is choice -- the freedom to choose to belong, or not belong, to a union.

Certainly, many workers realize a great benefit from union membership, but that does not mean that union membership is right for everyone. In a free society, workers should have a choice. This proposal guarantees that choice.

Why should we enact Freedom to Work today?

Just like Michigan's natural beauty attracts tourists from around the country, our economic conditions attract workers and businesses, too. But if another state can offer a better home -- either for a company or a worker -- Michigan can lose out, no matter how great our state may be. That's why we must remain competitive.

Like it or not, the 49 other states in the Union are competing with us for businesses and workers. And across the nation, 23 states have enacted freedom-to-work laws -- including neighboring Indiana. Though Michigan is the comeback state, we don't exist in a vacuum. Our successes today could turn to failures tomorrow, so we need to maintain our competitive edge. Sometimes, staying competitive means changing the way we operate as a state. It means reinventing ourselves. To that end, we've taken great strides. We balanced our budget, erased our deficit, eliminated the job-killing Michigan Business Tax, and reformed our pension tax system to make it sustainable and fairer for all.

Freedom to work is all about creating more and better jobs in Michigan, and it's the next step for signaling to job creators and talented workers that Michigan is open for business, and that we're the best place in the country to live, work and play.