One year later, success or failure of Right to Work is still up - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

One year later, success or failure of Right to Work is still up for debate

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MICHIGAN (WJRT) -

(02/17/14) - It was a historic day in the state's labor movement- Dec. 11, 2012 - when protestors rallied at the state capitol against Right to Work legislation.

Later the same day, Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill in private, and Michigan became the twenty-fourth Right to Work state.

The new law took effect March 28, 2013 - prompting more questions than answers.

Among the most-asked - How soon before this new legislation jump-starts Michigan's economy? And what will happen to labor, now that workers can opt out of paying dues?

Monday, almost one year later, we investigated how Right to Work has changed Michigan.

Right to Work legislation proved to be one of the most divisive political issues in Michigan history. The law bans making union membership a condition of employment.

At that time, Gov. Snyder said it would make the state more attractive to business, and the only reason he OK'd it was because it meant more jobs. Organized labor said it was simply union busting.

Fast forward a year - to 2014. The success or failure of the legislation is still up for debate.

ABC12 caught up with Gov. Snyder at the start of his re-election campaign. He says the legislation has opened the door for business growth and new development.

"The one thing that has happened is that we have more organizations, more interested in coming to Michigan. Because we are a Right to Work state, a freedom to work state," he said. "There clearly are a number of companies in the pipeline that said, before, they would have disqualified us without even looking at Michigan. Now they are looking at our state."

According to a report, The Michigan Economic Development Corporation says new business investment jumped after Right To Work was put in place - up about 33 percent in the 12 months since the law went into effect. It's also reported that those investments created about 9,400 jobs.

We asked Gov. Snyder for specific examples.

"I can't because they've asked us not to," he said, "Let me put it in a simple sense - you remember the protest that took place when we were going through it? Do you know of any company that would hold up their hand and say, "I've came to Michigan because of Right to Work? No company want to come to a place where people are going to immediately protest and say, 'Why are you here? We don't want you here.'"

Opponents of the new law said it would weaken labor unions, but the Governor says that's simply not true.

"If they see value, I encourage them to join. If not, they shouldn't have to, and hopefully unions should be more accountable and get them to join," Snyder said.

"Right to Work was done, and done for one reason only - and that was to weaken unions. It does nothing to help the state," said Norwood Jewell, president, UAW Region 1-C.

In terms of overall numbers, that hasn't happened yet. U.S. Department of Labor statistics show union membership in Michigan actually increased by about 4,000 in 2013 - that's after Right to Work legislation took effect.

President of the American Federation of Teachers - Michigan, David Hecker.

"People are signing up, people respect their union, they understand the value of the union. Understand they are the union," said David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers - Michigan.

"We could tell probably very soon if there was a mass exodus from the unions, but there hasn't been," said Jason Kosnoski, UM-Flint professor.

"It's going to pull us together, it's going to make us be better reps," Jewell said.

The full effect on the labor ranks won't be felt for a while in Michigan, since many pre-existing labor contracts - like the UAW's - are still in effect.

The unions, meanwhile, are standing by their belief that the legislation will hurt the state's economy.

"Right to Work states, that have been right to work for years, their average wage and benefits are much lower than states that aren't Right to Work," Jewell said.

One observer says we should expect to see Right to Work back in the spotlight later this year.

"What people should look for is it to become a campaign issue, especially in the Governor's race," Kosnoski said.

Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer has already vowed to repeal Right to Work legislation if he's elected in November.

"(Gov. Snyder's) economic policies just aren't working. We need to do better," he said.

Most of those in the debate agree on one thing - it's still too early to measure the full effect the legislation will have. It's even estimated it could be at least a decade before we find out if Right to Work was really right for Michigan.

"It did nothing to help the state, it did nothing to bring business here - all it was to try to make us weaker because they don't like our political power," Jewell said.

"My goal here is to solve problem. You hired me to solve problems, not pick fights with people," Snyder said.

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