By Andrew Keller, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
SAGINAW, MI (WNEM) -
"Right to Work" is a controversial move many states are looking at and some have adopted.
Some say it might be coming to Michigan.
In March, Indiana became the 23rd state to pass legislation to allow employees to decide if they want to join or opt out of the union at their place of employment.
In Wabash County, IN, so-called smokestack industry has left and the county has lost 5.6 percent of its population. Wabash County Economic Development Group President William Konyha believes "Right to Work" could be beneficial.
"For me, it's about opportunity, I want a chance to take a swing," said Konyha.
Since its passage, Konyha said several companies have expressed interest in Wabash County. He believes companies are attracted by workers who are unimpeded by union rules.
"It's about work rules, it's about flexibility, it's not wages, it 's not about union, it's about people filing grievances every 15 minutes, it's about the company not being able to schedule a workforce," said Konyha.
The construction has already started at the new Wabash Industrial Park. He said that there are already companies moving in, and he expects within the next five years, the park could be full."
Brent Eastom is the president of IUE-CWA Local 901 in Fort Wayne. He represents 750 employees and he claims "Right to Work" is a full-frontal assault on the average worker and the unions that protect worker rights. He thinks this could mean lower wages and fewer benefits.
"We must remain strong, we have to say united," said Eastom.
Eastom said this is a prime example of a political agenda, and that the unions and their members are being used as a scapegoat for economic troubles.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the bill into law. A Republican-led legislature helped push it through. Eastom said he thinks killing unions is at the top of the leadership's checklist.
"They had a political agenda, and they rammed it through, because they had the majority, and you couldn't do anything about it," said Eastom.
Dave Donnay is the vice-president of human resources at Android Industries. Android's corporate office is in Auburn Hills. The company has 16 different work sites worldwide, including a component assembly manufacturing plant in Flint. His company just signed on for a new project in Indiana. They rented a building in Roanoke, IN, a few miles southwest of Fort Wayne. Donnay has an interesting take on "Right to Work" states.
"I don't see very much advantage or disadvantage to a company like ours. We have a good relationship with our employees," says Donnay. "I think a right to work state for employees is an advantage because they have the right to choose."
It's too early to tell if "Right to Work" will reduce wages in Indiana, but Konyha insisted he doesn't see that happening. He points to a company that recently passed on the state because they weren't "Right to Work" yet.
"Our average wage in factories here is $14.40 an hour, their wage was twice what we pay, it wasn't an issue of wages, it was an issue of flexibility," said Konyha.
He said he believes it's all about economic opportunity for companies.
"It has so improved the competitive advantage that we have, that this is perhaps the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back, because this is the one thing that will bring people in the door to look at all the other things that have already happened," said Konyha.
But Eastom stands firm. He doesn't believe people will get paid more, in fact, he thinks the exact opposite.
"A $16-$17 an hour job with benefits is going to be an $8-$9-an-hour job with partial benefits," said Eastom.
It's too early to tell which of the scenarios will play out, but both Eastom and Konyha believe Michigan could be the next to become a "Right to Work"state.
"Far be it from me to tell Michigan, or Illinois, or Ohio or anybody else what to do, but the longer they postpone it, the better off we're going to be," said Konyha.
"I think this is the ultimate way to kill the person that's actually negotiating on the people's behalf, if a union dies and dissolves because members opt out of the union, now the company can say, "I'm going to do this, what are you going to do about it?" They have the leverage, there's no one there to fight for the Middle Class working family anymore," said Eastom.
Indiana passed a "Right to Work" law in 1957, but it was repealed eight years later.
Copyright WNEM 2012 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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