VIDEO DEBATE: Right to Work

Labor Notes' Mark Brenner went on Fox News last night to expose the right-wing lies behind 'right-to-work'.

I was on Fox News last night debating Vinny Vernuccio from the Mackinac Center about the passage of “right-to-work” in the labor movement’s backyard.

The Mackinac Center is part of a virtual cottage industry of right-wing think tanks pushing conservative, cookie-cutter legislation like “right-to-work.” Mackinac gets oodles of support from homegrown Michigan conservatives like billionaire Amway heir Dick DeVos, but it’s part of a much larger conservative network, with ties to groups like Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), both front-groups funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch.

Indeed, sections of the new Michigan law were lifted straight from boilerplate language developed by ALEC, and as Jane Slaughter detailed in her article yesterday, conservatives like the Koch brothers have been working for years to pass right to work in once solidly union Michigan.

Despite lots of practice beforehand, I still mispronounced Mackinac (MAC-in-naw), but I think I gave their corporate mouthpiece a pretty good once-over.



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Folks like Vinny Vernuccio love to get on a soapbox about freedom. Why not start with our First Amendment right to freedom of association? You know, the one that’s violated every 18 minutes in this country when someone is fired or disciplined for union organizing—often by the same corporations that fund shills like Vernuccio and Mackinac.

The irony wasn’t lost on me, either, that folks like Vernuccio and the Fox News anchors are first in line to champion the sanctity of contracts and decry government interference with the private sector… that is, until an employer signs a union contract that says everyone has some financial obligation to support the union securing benefits enjoyed by everyone. There’s a reason opponents call right to work “right to freeload.”

Vernuccio claimed that letting folks quit the union would force unions to improve, by making them prove their worth to members (Governor Rick Snyder calls them “customers”). We certainly think unions need to do a better job, and Labor Notes hasn’t been quiet about their shortcomings.

But “right to work” isn’t going to make unions better. That’s what the rank and file is for.

Mark Brenner is the former director of Labor Notes and is currently an instructor at the University of Oregon's Labor Education & Research Center.