This coming Sunday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will award its annual Oscars, with Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed “Lincoln” — a look at the 16th president’s work to abolish slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation and his efforts to get the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution enacted –- up for several awards.

With the Academy Awards coming in the middle of Black History Month, it’s worth noting the fact that Republicans have put up proportionally more votes for every important civil rights act, including the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 during Lyndon’s Johnson’s presidency.

Against the backdrop of today’s battles – both in the courtroom and in state legislatures – over the civil and legal rights of gays, beneficiaries of government services and other groups who largely stand outside the Republican coalition, we now see the immigration issue emerging as central to the social reframing of the national Republican Party. But the question should be asked, who really stands for the civil rights of workers?

If you are interested in civil rights, how could you be against giving workers the choice as to whether or not to join a union, depending on each individual’s personal philosophy and calculation of the benefits and costs? The new Michigan laws enacted and signed by the Republicans who control the statehouse and the executive branch “…will not affect collective bargaining in any way except to take away unions’ ability to fire workers for not paying them,” according to Mackinac Center for Public Policy Labor Policy Director Vincent Vernuccio.

Until the political leadership of the state signed legislation about two months ago, Michigan workers did not have all of the freedoms many Americans enjoy. They have been dependent for worker benefits on the people who control their workplaces.  We all come down the same way on helping runaway kids escape from people who control their lives in countless and sometimes very personal ways, yet we seem confused about the burdens placed on many businesses and even major industries by union work rules. Such rules are hardly ever designed to achieve competitiveness for an organization, even though this may mean the life or death of a company in the modern era.

In the year since Indiana became a right-to-work state, they have reported adding 43,300 jobs on Michigan’s southern border.  In the same time period, Michigan has lost another 7,300 jobs to other places.  What is really telling is that inflation-adjusted compensation, according to Mackinac, has grown 12% in right-to-work states, compared to about 3% in forced unionism states.

Americans are hardwired for fairness, and a lot of people buy into the idea that it is only fair that unions who negotiate for benefits enjoyed by all workers should be allowed to collect a fee from even nonunion members who might benefit.  In truth, there is no mandate or even pressure on the unions to negotiate for workers who don’t want to belong, for one reason or another.

To frustrate the purpose of the new laws, many Michigan unions are attempting to negotiate contracts with “security clauses” that would delay the new worker protections 0as far as  out as (in one case) 2023, by grandfathering the unions’ ability to lock employees into paying union dues and fees.  There undoubtedly will be some court cases on this unprecedented scheme to skim workers’ wages well beyond current contract periods.

Of note:  Vincent Vernuccio will visit Columbus on June 12 to headline the distinguished speaker series and present “The Michigan Story on Workplace Freedom and What It Means for Ohio,” produced by Opportunity Ohio and co-sponsored by the R Street Institute.  There will be more information on our website as the date approaches.

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