Grand Valley State University economist Hari Singh authored the report, “Right to Work and Economic Impact: What It Means for Michigan?” as part of The Press’ Michigan 10.0 series on crucial questions for the state’s future.
The highly contentious issue — long considered a nonstarter in the home state of the United Auto Workers — is being raised anew by business groups and conservatives who argue such a law will help Michigan reverse its severe job losses.
Unions staunchly resist the idea, calling it instead “the right to work for less,” and say the deep recession’s credit crisis, housing slump and stalled auto sales were to blame for the state’s job losses, not its stand on union shops.
Right-to-work laws, in force in 22 states, do not ban unions but prohibit agreements between trade unions and an employer that make union membership and dues a job requirement. Such prohibitions make it harder for unions to organize, operate and collect dues.
Union shops are found across Michigan — at General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Delphi, Whirlpool and some Johnson Controls plants.
In the Grand Rapids area, there also are union shops at Bradford White Corp., American Seating Co., Kellogg Co., Dematic North America, a Benteler plant and General Electric Aviation, for example.
In his study released today, Singh focused on nine states that have major auto-related industries. He compared six right-to-work states, Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, with Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, which all allow union shops.
Singh’s findings? Michigan could have 50,000 to 60,000 more people working in the auto industry today if it had become a right-to-work state in 1965. Those jobs would have accumulated over the years as more auto companies, suppliers, and other union-averse companies had moved to Michigan over time, Singh said. Taking the recent industry downturn out of the equation, the increase in auto-related jobs would total nearly a quarter of those employed in recent years.
But Singh also found those jobs would not be the high-paying jobs long associated with the industry.
“If we were an RTW state, annual wages of these workers would be significantly lower initially, dropping from the current $74,000 to perhaps in the mid-$60,000 range,” Singh said in an interview.