Monday, July 14, 2008

Right to Work "Zones" in Michigan

Certainly it's not a series of bad decisions, or painfully slow responses to market forces, or top-heavy fat cat payrolls on the part of major corporations, or obstructionist Republican lawmakers that are intent on making things worse, that is dragging Michigan business down - it's the employees who demand to be paid a living wage so they can actually have homes to sleep in and food to eat and clothes to wear that are the problem! Business would be booming if we could just pay our employees $1 an hour, right? And you didn't need health benefits or retirement plans, either. Or good schools or parks or other "quality of life" things. Silly you. Survival of the fittest, you know. Time for you working class heroes to join the race to the bottom with your southern counterparts.

Sorry, got carried away there for a minute. This idea of creating "right to work zones" in Michigan is starting to surface in the traditional media slowly but surely, and it's time to point it out and make everyone aware of the right's latest attempt to advance the notion that it's only the unions that are destroying Michigan's ability to compete. Maybe the idea of zoning has been around for a while, I'm not sure, but it popped up in print recently over here on the west side (naturally) and it's looks as if they are working to spread it statewide.

The "It's All Detroit's Fault" West Michigan big money cabal of Secchia, the DeVos family, etc. and so on, is guaranteed to keep floating the concept of "zones" around to see if it will stick. Grand Rapids is hosting a West Michigan Regional Policy Conference in September, a gathering of who's who of conservative elite that will probably compare notes on who has been more adept at moving their labor force to temps - which begs the question of why they are so worried about "labor" in the first place. But anyway, the keynote speaker gives you a good idea of where they are going with this-

About 500 lawmakers, CEOs and other leaders are expected to converge downtown in September for what has been hailed as a long-overdue chance to put together a public policy agenda for West Michigan business.

While a keynote from Newsweek columnist George Will is part of the agenda for the 2008 Regional Policy Conference, organizers said the key to the event will be setting up a playbook of major issues to be addressed with state, local and national lawmakers.

"It's time West Michigan and our members get engaged," said Jared Rodriguez, vice president of public policy and government affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. "We need lawmakers from all over the state to know West Michigan."

The topics they will address?

Among the topics on the agenda for the Sept. 18-19 event is a potential statewide right-to-work initiative and possible right-to-work zones and counties.

Such an initiative could weaken unions, but lure employers leery of Michigan by making membership optional for hourly employees at union-represented shops.

Another session will focus on lean government, which organizers said will focus on creating policies that will encourage cutting costs by merging government services.

Basically, the agenda is a familiar one, "cut government and destroy workers rights". Surprised there wasn't anything in there about "high taxes", but you can bet that it will come up sometime during the conference.

The "right to work zones" concept is spreading - today it's an editorial in Crain's Detroit Business that advances the notion, based the impending decision from Volkswagon of where they will build a new plant.

So some business boosters have suggested that Michigan should adopt right-to-work zones, just as it has created tax-advantaged enterprise zones. In those zones, employees could decide individually whether they wanted to join or financially support a union. If such a law were ever passed, it must bar such zones from raiding other parts of the state. The zones should be open to new development only, from companies that otherwise would be expanding outside of Michigan.

Clearly, other states, including Ohio and Kentucky, have successfully attracted manufacturing jobs without right-to-work laws. But Michigan is so closely identified with organized labor that it's knocked out of the running, even when attractive packages, such as Choose Michigan, are available.

It sounds radical, given the state's history as a cradle for the organized labor movement in the 1930s. But a right-to-work zone might be a bold enough idea that could transform Michigan's image to bring jobs to a state that desperately needs them.

It sounds insane, actually. Can't wait to see how they would enforce something like that and keep these zones from "raiding" other parts of the state, not to mention all the other workers rights laws they would probably be allowed to violate and the legal problems that would create - with the rest of the state expected to pick up the tab for the cost of low-wage workers with little benefits hitting public services, of course. There is no way such a system could be made "fair", but that really isn't the idea - the idea is to slowly whittle away at employment laws until they favor the employers only. And you know it.

Something to keep an eye on. If the national economy continues to fall into a recession, dragging us down with it, this idea will probably gain more traction as the right looks for opportunities to destroy the unions any way they can. Big money doesn't mind turning Michigan into the "Mississippi of the North"; as long as they don't have to pay their employees a decent wage, they will be guaranteed to enjoy a decent lifestyle - and if you're poor, it's your own damn fault.