Right-to-Work or Wrong-to-Work? Why the Michigan Vote Makes Sense

I have to say it’s been fun to have a front row seat in the Right-To-Work debate that raged on in Michigan this past week!

Even President Obama made an appearance in Michigan and was probably the only one to put this debate into it’s proper context. He said Right-To-Work legislation is not about economics, it’s about politics – and for once in his life he was right. Unfortunately, he then spewed a bunch of union propaganda numbers and made it even more political, but hey, he’s a politician.

I have a bunch of thoughts on this that don’t really make one coherent post, so I’m just going to share those thoughts and we can take it from there:

  • Unions are dying a slow death. Only 17 percent of Michigan’s workforce, and 7 percent of the national workforce, is unionized. What does this say? It says companies get it more today than ever. You have to treat your employees well and you have to compete for talent. If you don’t get this – you won’t be a competitive company for long, because the best and brightest won’t work for you.
  • Unions in Right-To-Work states, and really nationally, need to get back to getting their membership to understand their “true” value. In HR we have to do this constantly in our organizations. Unions have forgotten this for decades! They just kept collecting their monthly dues and assumed their membership got it! They don’t.
  • Somebody explain to me how it’s a bad thing for an employee to have the choice of not paying union dues, if they don’t think their union is giving them value. I pay a stock broker to give me stock tips – I find value in his opinion, I pay for it. If I found value in the service a union was giving me, I’d pay for it. I spoke to three long term teachers who are members of the MEA this week, and all three said they would not pay dues if given the option. All three said, and I quote: “My union does nothing for me.”
  • Unions believe in “branding” = scaring their membership into believing they can’t live without them.
  • Michigan citizens voted for a Republican governor, a Republican Senate and Republican House. Those three functions voted exactly the way they were suppose to, by the citizens who voted them in. There is nothing shocking about this at all. If Michigan’s citizens didn’t want Right-To-Work legislation, and similar types of legislation, they would have voted differently. But they didn’t. If you lived in Michigan during the recession you would probably understand why – it sucks to lead the nation in unemployment.

“They don’t make my workforce better”

I’m an HR Pro, so in my career I’ve been on the opposite side of the table from unions. I’m management; I don’t have a positive view of unions because I believe they don’t make my workforce better, they make it weaker.

Everyone in a union is treated the same, which just pushes everyone to the middle. High performers have no reason to be high performers when they are treated the same as the weakest performer. I’ve seen this and have dealt with it professionally — unions telling me I have to treat these two groups the same.

This does not create high performance, it creates worse performance. This is what I know.

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Everyone needs a wake-up call. I think Michigan enacting Right-To-Work legislation is a wake up call to unions to reinvent themselves, and to start to really think, “how do we show our membership we are adding value to their lives.”

It can’t just be about “protecting” jobs. They’ve protected jobs right out of this state. It has to be about creating opportunities for their membership – that is, a 180 degree difference in philosophy from where they are at.

They need to find a way that employers are begging for their membership to come and work in their companies, because their membership is so highly performing and skilled. Right now, employers are running away from unions because the value equation of skills and dollars don’t match up.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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