By Kevin Binversie | Wisconsin Reporter
Michigan is now the nation’s 24th “Right to Work” state, and reasonable people want to know: Is Wisconsin next?
Gov. Scott Walker spent much of a Wednesday trying to put such speculation to rest. Citing the last two years of political unrest — ending, for the moment, in the unions’ failed June attempt to remove the governor from office — Walker said a full right-to-work law in the Badger State would distract attention from his economic agenda.
But the recent “Battle of Lansing” will have an economic effect on Wisconsin. The only question is when Wisconsinites will notice.
Walker said he’s more concerned about competition from neighboring Minnesota or Illinois than from a new “Right-to-Work” Michigan. Most of the economic statistics and the reality on the ground may prove him wrong.
With companies looking for a competitive edge in site selection, right-to-work is significant. According to the Illinois Policy Institute, right-to-work states are seeing more economic growth, more in-migration of new residents and, in the end, higher standards of living compared to forced-unionization states.
According to 2011 U.S. Census data, 364,000 people left the 26 states with forced unionization laws and headed for right-to-work states. For the broader period from 2000 to 2010, nearly 5 million made that same decision.
Admittedly, not all of it is about right-to-work. Texas, the biggest migration victor, offers a warm climate nearly year round, as well as no state income tax and no corporate tax.
Still, the Census data is hard to deny. The 10 states with the largest net migration loss — Alaska, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Ohio — allow forced unionization. (Indiana’s law didn’t take effect until February 1, 2012.)
On the flip side, seven of the eight states which saw a net gain in migration — Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — were right-to-work states. The eighth state, Colorado, hasn’t seen real labor organizing since the turn of the last century when miners warred with owners in some of the most violent industrial showdowns in America.
What does all this mean for Wisconsin? With forced unionization dead in three neighboring states (Iowa has been right-to-work since 1947) and an uncertain outcome in such states as Missouri, Wisconsin may appear less hospitable to business.
Take for example rumors that construction giant Caterpillar may leave Illinois completely. While Wisconsin benefits because of a $8.8 billion merger of Caterpillar and Milwaukee-based Bucyrus in 2011, the company has yet to show any interest in building new Wisconsin facilities even though the Badger State is headquarters for Cat’s mining division.
Whether Caterpillar wants to admit it, the company’s critics and groups like the National Right to Work Committee believe a major factor in the company’s real estate decisions has been right-to-work. Why else would it settle on Athens, Georgia as the location of its newest $200 million, 1,400-employee plant?
And it’s not just the big companies. Wisconsin may be missing out on the smaller ones, as well. Asked why he approved right-to-work, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder didn’t mention mega-corporations and thousand-employee plants. Instead, he referenced Android Industries, headquartered and founded in the Detroit suburb of Auburn Hills. Android decided earlier this year to build a new $9 million plant and create nearly 70 jobs across the state border, in newly right-to-work Indiana.
After the past two years of protests, recalls, and the economic uncertainty that came with them, it’s easy to see why Gov. Walker may not want to fight for a right-to-work law in Wisconsin. Of course, there was a time, just a few weeks ago, when Michigan’s Snyder was saying the same thing. Maybe denying you’re interested in right-to-work is a governor’s necessary precursor to actually signing it.
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has served on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org