Impact of Right to Work law to be felt for years, attorney says

 Carlson, a labor employment attorney for the Royal Oak firm of Pitt McGehee Palmer Rivers & Golden, is not only passionate about his niche in this type of law, but also well versed in its particulars.

After graduating from the Uni- versity of Michigan, Carlson entered Wayne State University Law School. He participated in the Civil Rights Litigation Clinic representing Michigan prison inmates in civil rights actions in federal court, interned in the StateAppellate Defender Office in Detroit, and graduated cum laude in 2004. He joined Pitt McGehee in 2006 as an associate attorney after serving as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow.

“I got into this kind of law because I don’t like bullies,” Carl- son said. “I like working for the underdog. I like helping the indi- vidual get what’s fair and just.”

Born and raised in Michigan, Carlson said that his union roots run true and deep. His father was a teacher and a member of the union. He said the term

RTW was coined in the early

1940s, before the Taft-Hartley Act was passed in 1947, which made it illegal for employers to maintain a union, or closed shop, ending forced unionization as a condition for gaining or keeping employment.

“The reason it’s important to understand that is because when the term RTW was created, it was referring to a time and place where there could be forced unionization,” Carlson said.

In 2012, when the state enact- ed the RTW law, Carlson said thetrue, original meaning of the phrase was mangled.

“A true RTW would be a guarantee of job security, or just cause employment,” he said.

Meaning, an employer cannot terminate a worker unless they have just cause related to on-the job conduct.

“Union representation is a benefit of employment,” Carlson said.

Unions have gone through hardships over the years to pro- tect employees from unsafe work conditions, harsh treatment, and other unsavory conditions to pro- vide a safe place to work, with adequate pay and benefits.

“And if you’re going to claim the benefits of union representa- tion, it’s only fair you pay your fair share of what the benefits cost,” he said. “But the RTW law in Michigan makes it illegal for two consenting parties, the union and the employer, to enter into that kind of contract. And when you think of America and Michi- gan as a free market, and you ask yourself, ‘Why would a govern- ment that wants to keep its hands off the free market get into the business of regulating what kinds of contracts people can enter into.’ It‘s unprecedented.”

Carlson, and numerous other union members, were also upset about the way the law here was enacted. Gov. Rick Snyder, after repeatedly saying he took no position on RTW, reversed course when the House and Sen- ate entered “lame duck” sessions after the fall 2012 elections, and “almost overnight” said he would sign the bills if approved, Carlson said. Soon, the bills were intro- duced, voted on and passed, with- out any committee hearings, pub- lic debates, or earlier promised- upon input from labor unions.

“On the day the bills were introduced and people heard it was to be discussed on floor at House and Senate, they showed up in Lansing and were met with locked and closed doors,“ he said. “The political process for passing RTW was unprecedented.”

Carlson is representing several journalists and others who were excluded from the Capitol, claim- ing that provisions of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act were violat- ed. Nevertheless, RTW was enacted and became law this past March.

Proponents of RTW argue it will bring more jobs to the state. Opponents say those jobs pay far

less, forcing employees to pay more for health care benefits and weakening unions by forcing then to represent workers who are not members.

“It overstretches the resources of the union so has to do more work with fewer resources,” Carl- son said.

He also doubts the claims that it will draw more businesses here. “I have yet to hear an employ- er declare that they’re going to pack up shop in a union state and move to Michigan strictly

because we have RTW,“ he said. In the 24 RTW states, workers

generally earn less, he said. “In other states, it hasn’t been

good for workers.” Most RTW states are in the

South, and RTW states are gener- ally Republican, while non-RTW states are Democrats. Experts say that could cause a shift in the political arena as well.

Carlson said the economic arguments can cut both ways. He said studies have shown that RTW can attract employers, but it also lowers the quality of life and standard of living for middle class workers. As a result, con- sumer spending goes down.

“And so the economic argu- ments do go both ways, but it appears, on the whole, that the more objective economic analysis comes out against RTW laws on the whole,” he said.

He also debunked several myths about the RTW law. Pro- ponents say it prohibits forced unionization.

“But that’s been illegal for 60 years,” Carlson said.

Unions have been forced to make concessions, and globalized free trade have opened cheap labor markets, according to Carl- son.

“RTW states have caused a race to the bottom,” he said.

He uses the Saturn car experi- ment as an example. That manu- facturing operation went to Ten- nessee, a RTW state, and forced General Motors employees there to accept lower wages and bene- fits without the opportunity to negotiate or compromise.

“And all they ask for in return is a closer to level playing field, a fair shot. And when the politics of one state offer a company the opportunity to get more for less, and the workers in the other state are forced to compromise, at some point, something has to give. And what we have now in Michigan, unfortunately, is an even more diminished opportuni- ty for workers to reach the benefit

of their bargain,” Carlson said. The fact is, Carlson said, that employers are moving to places where the pool of workers is more educated in the areas of math, science, and technology. And if Michigan does not have a strong middle class to send their children to schools to learn those skills, “They’re not going to have a workforce that can compete for

jobs in the 21st century.” The state, he said, is restricting

worker’s rights at the same time it’s lowering investments in edu- cation, through evaluations that make it more difficult for teach- ers to do their jobs, less funding and other things that weaken the middle class.

“If Michigan wants to com- pete economically and get the better jobs, it should be interested in having more protections for workers, a higher quality of life, so that workers who work in a GM factory today can send their kids to school so they can be the technical innovators 10-20 years from now,” Carlson said. “It’s what upward mobility in the mid- dle class should be about.”

His vision for RTW, long term here, is that unions will have to cut their professional staff, reduce services, and balance the interest of workers in the pursuit of work- place protection and representa- tion, versus legal and political advocacies.

Dissension between those factions in the workplace – those who pay union fees and those who don’t – can also lead

to problems, he said. “And it’s going to cause

resentment in the workplace, and that’s never good. It‘s not good for employee morale, for produc- tivity, or for business, when you have workers who are conflict- ed,” Carlson said.

It could also lead to an increase of litigation, when unions are unable to resolve an otherwise run-of-the-mill dispute between employer and employee. RTW is here, and can only be overturned by acts of future state legislation and a governor’s sig- nature, and not by a vote of the people.

To those who advocate for RTW, Carlson says, “I hope they’re right. But experience teaches us that’s not the way real- ity works, unfortunately.”

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