The Midwest has lately been at the center of battles between unions and the politicians contesting them, and the union side hasn't been doing so well. Michigan is the latest rust-belt state to lob a legislative grenade into union ranks, the state governor signing two right-to-work bills that prohibit mandatory union dues in the state's workplaces.
Some context: This isn't like Indiana or Wisconsin, two other nearby states that have recently waged government vs. union battles (unions lost in both states), Michigan is a marquee union haven. It is the birthplace of the United Auto Workers, the richest union in the nation, and has ties to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters that still make front page news. It has the fifth-highest union membership of any state, but it has the greatest number of union members by percentage of the population. And as for that fifth-placed membership placing, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011 the states ahead of Michigan were New York, Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington.
Reaction from union representatives and supporters has, naturally, been damning. More than 12,000 people from Michigan and surrounding states marched outside the state Capitol, the Teamsters president called the bill "shameful" and "divisive," and 260 teachers – members of another powerful union – called in sick on the say of the vote.
Reaction from outside the unions has been mixed: The hope is that the legislation will give Michigan a better chance to compete for corporate dollars now that the specter of compulsory unionization has been removed. But it doesn't change existing union contracts – the current UAW labor agreement with the Big Three expires in 2015 – and it doesn't stop attempts to unionize. Michigan also has other issues like its tax on manufacturing equipment that make it an expensive place to do business. No one is expecting cash to suddenly be funneled back into Michigan in ways it hasn't been for decades, and it will take a few years to gauge the results. The narrative, rather, seems to be more about the future of unions and the momentum turning even more forcefully against them, as opposed to a sudden revival of Michigan's fortunes because of the legislation.