Four ways to keep Michigan rolling

F. Vincent Vernuccio and Jeremy Lott

Michigan’s economy has come a long way, baby.

The state took a brave step forward by passing a right-to-work law in 2012. That reform did wonders for economic growth.

Since then, Michigan’s payroll employment increased by 284,800 jobs or 7 percent. Private sector wages are up 4.9 percent. Unemployment dropped from 9 percent to 4.5 percent, sending it below the national average for a change. From the time Gov. Rick Snyder signed right to work through last year, our personal income growth was the third-highest in the nation.

Michigan is doing great and we can do much better still. But first, we should remember the right-to-work tide has helped to lift even union boats. Organized labor predicted many dire things would happen if the Legislature passed right to work: Unionization rates would drop, wages would plummet and cats and dogs would start living together.

But none of that happened. Right-to-work went into effect in 2013, but Michigan unions didn’t lose members. They gained them. There was a slight drop in 2014, but then last year, unions in the state added a whopping 36,000 members.

How could that happen, now that unions can no longer force workers to pay dues to keep their jobs? Michigan unions are doing a better job of representing members and convincing them that dues are worth it. As United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams said: “I’ve always believed that if you do your job representing people, the people will be there to support you.” Right-to-work laws made unions be more responsive to workers, which has led to more workers opting for union representation.

More of this, please. The more we can root out many of the entrenched problems associated with compulsory unionism, the better. While much has been done in private sector unions, it’s important to move serious union reforms further in the public sector. As Labor Day approaches, we offer four ideas.

■Enact Worker’s Choice: Call this the flip side of right to work. Unions complain they still have to represent workers who don’t pay them dues and don’t want anything to do with unions. They have a point.

So each worker should have a choice: Be represented by and pay dues to the union in place or keep your money and negotiate with your boss directly. In a recent survey, the overwhelming majority of rank-and-file union members preferred this solution. State government can only do this for the public sector for now, but that just might inspire reformers in Congress to step up to reform the private sector.

■Require re-certification: Periodically, voters get to either reaffirm the Michigan Constitution or call for a new one. We should bring that same democratic spirit to government unions by giving workers a choice to either re-up or reject their union. If they reject the union, they could go it alone or look for another union.

■Demand transparency: Private sector unions are required to file financial reports with the Labor Department. Their members and the public can use these reports to get a better idea of how union management is spending dues money. Public sector union members should have these same rights so they know what they’re buying.

■Reform release time: Our reforms should stick up for the hard-working taxpayer too. Public sector unions are allowed to have “release time” for specific union officers built into government contracts.

This means that some government employees can spend up to 100 percent of their time doing union work, which is supposed to be paid for out of union dues, on the taxpayer dime instead. When you tell people that this is currently legal, they tend to look at you funny. This indefensible bit of legalized graft cannot end soon enough.

F. Vincent Vernuccio is the director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Jeremy Lott is an adjunct scholar at the Center.