Blind embrace of Democrats cost unions in Michigan

Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa Jr. says Michigan’s passage of a right-to-work law on Tuesday “basically betray[s] democracy.” Actually, it portrays democracy — and reasonably accurately.

For decades, Hoffa, his father, who also led the Teamsters, and almost all leaders of major unions have unabashedly and unashamedly aligned themselves with the Democratic Party. They provided foot soldiers for campaigns and money when necessary to pave the way for Democrats to win public office.

Those officeholders, in turn, rewarded them with union-friendly laws, expanded social services, high salaries and generous benefits for union members in the public and private sectors, as well as fostered a climate that enhanced — rather than challenged — the power of the leaders themselves.

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Now Republicans control many of those chambers and statehouses, and unions are paying the price for using members’ dues to back the other party — often against the will of those members.

A perfect storm had to come together to topple union power in what can be considered the birthplace of the big-time American labor movement. And it did. Unions overreached this fall and had a ballot initiative to enshrine union rights in the state constitution. It fell 57-42.

That was the signal Rick Snyder, the state’s Republican governor, and the Legislature needed that Michigan residents had tired of blind government support for unions and would consider alternatives.

Michigan residents had seen what a union-run economy had produced, and they were not impressed. From 1977 to 2011, the state experienced one of the lowest rates of personal income growth in the nation and an unemployment rate that now ranks sixth highest among the states.

Meanwhile, right-to-work states have seen employment expand by 8.2 percent from 2001 to 2010, and states without, such as Michigan, had shown a net decrease in jobs. Enough was enough.

Union workers have made a lot of noise in protest of the vote — just as they did in Wisconsin and Indiana and Ohio before. But the noise will soon subside, and the long-term trends are not on their side.

On Nov. 6, an otherwise disastrous night for Republicans, GOP lawmakers retook control of the state Senates in Wisconsin and Alaska and, in Arkansas, won both houses of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

That gives Republicans control of both chambers in 26 states, including Michigan, and 19 for Democrats. Overall, Republicans control 56 state chambers to 41 for Democrats.

As home to the U.S. auto industry and as one of the nation's most heavily unionized states, Michigan is a big “get” for right-to-work. And it presents a challenge to the union movement: Continue to blindly support Democrats and suffer the state-level consequences when they fall out of power? Or learn to join with Republicans, participate in economic expansion and have a chance to influence events regardless of who is in power?

It’s up to them. Sadly, given their track record, it’s hard to be optimistic they will get the message.


Ford O'Connell is a Republican strategist, conservative activist and political analyst. A frequent commentator on Fox News, CNN and other broadcast media, he worked on the 2008 McCain-Palin presidential campaign.