Detroit -- Mark Mix's phones are ringing a bit more often from workers in Michigan, and he is spending more time in the state these days.
For the president of the National Right to Work Committee, that means something.
"The worse it gets with the economy and everything else, the better it gets for things that can help the state," he told me Wednesday. "In Michigan, I believe people are asking what's causing all this and they're looking around and identifying things like taxes and government and forced unionization and looking for answers."
It's clear to Mix and his colleagues -- and an increasing number of people here -- that one of those answers is making union membership an option not a requirement, as is now the case.
Fixing a broken system
He has a point.
The system is broken in Michigan and unless new things are put on the table to talk about, the state's free fall into oblivion will continue.
That doesn't mean unions will be broken. Nor does it mean it will even happen. But why not talk about it free from the rhetoric and intimidation from both the union and management?
Unfortunately, the answer is: because it's Michigan. And suggesting such a thing is akin to slapping someone's mother.
The unions will not allow such discussion and automotive companies won't broach the subject either -- because despite declining membership numbers, the unions still control the state.
"The UAW can deliver more pain than the right-to-work movement," Mix said.
State keeps losing jobs
That's too bad because, regardless of one's politics, at the core, it's about choice. Individuals should be given the right to decide on their own whether they want to join a union in a workplace.
Maybe in a state that leads the nation in unemployment with little indication of change, they'll side with the union. Maybe they won't.
Between 2002 and 2007, private sector employment growth in Michigan dropped 5.7 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In right-to-work states it increased 9.6 percent.
No single reason explains that, but it is interesting.
The fact that the topic is taboo is what really hurts Michigan because it keeps employers away, too.
Mix, nonetheless, remains optimistic. He said interest is picking up in all the Rust Belt states because workers are wondering if what they've been promised is really going to happen or if their benefits will even be held intact. The Chrysler bankruptcy and soon to be GM filing has raised some union worker eyebrows, he said.
Of course, Michigan isn't likely to become the 23rd state to change its ways, but that doesn't stop Mix and his colleagues from answering worker phone calls.
"There is hope," Mix said. "Freedom in the workplace always wins -- even in Michigan."