This weekend I was privileged to attend the annual Michigan Press Association conference, an event held each year to network and recognize the power of journalism in the State of Michigan.
Gov. Rick Snyder spoke to us as students, publishers and professional journalists about his plans for the future of Michigan and his hopes for cooperation between party lines. A question and answer session was opened after his speech and amazingly, in a room full of hundreds of journalists, it was silent.
Fortune favors the bold. My hand shot up as soon as I realized an awkward silence had been created. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to ask, but I was going to be the first to do it.
The right to work legislature passed in a lame-duck session in December is still a sore issue among Republicans because of the national backlash it has received. While the schematics behind right-to-work seem practical, the actuality behind it seems like a step toward destroying worker’s rights instead of empowering them.
I asked Snyder, “As a student facing graduation in a recession, how is right-to-work going to affect me when statistically jobs in right-to-work states pay their employees less money?”
Snyder gathered his thoughts for about five seconds and then tied on his tap shoes and gave me a song and dance number better than Fred Astaire.
While I have a recording of Snyder’s speech, I wish I could have recorded his answer verbatim. He iterated that unions wouldn’t affect people like me because according to his statistics, only 10 percent of all jobs are union. He then went on to say that the statistics are skewed because of political bias (so doesn’t that make his statistics skewed too?).
He was right; the statistics are wrong. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) in 2011, 17.5 percent of all Michigan employees were in a union, one and a half percent more than 2010, with projections for 2012 to see another increase in union members.
This of course is at odds with the attitude that if given the choice, people will choose not to join unions. The entire concept of right-to-work rested on that logic, which as we see in Michigan, is statistically flawed. We want unions; we created unions.
Snyder took four questions that day, and two of them were about right-to-work legislation. He didn’t bother to answer either of them, and on the second question was abrasive and dismissive of the whole thing being a set-up.
It wasn’t. I was genuinely curious about my future here in the state of Michigan, a future that has been increasingly dismal as more job statistics are released and less pay is now imminent.
Gov. Snyder may think unions won’t matter for me when I look for a career, but they will. Our infrastructure—the nurses, plow truck drivers, police officers, fire fighters, teachers, electrical workers and many others who play crucial roles in the daily functionality of the world—provides me with its services, and when people aren’t working or aren’t happy working, it could mean the difference between my driving safely on plowed roads or receiving life-saving treatment.