Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 20, 2012

Another View: Politicizing job creation doesn't help


---- — Michigan officially has joined the ranks of the right-to-work states — and never has the mitten appeared more frayed.

Gov. Rick Snyder hadn't even signed the bill into law before opponents started planning court challenges and recall ... drives. The next two years leading up to the 2014 governor's race promise to be full of anger and rancor.

But what will be lost when all that energy, creativity and money is poured into the political fight?

It is no small thing when Michigan, the birthplace of the UAW, now one of the most politically powerful organizations in the country, becomes a right-to-work state. The move attacks an important part of our history.

Manufacturing communities like Muskegon know the value of the unions' fight for fair wages and safe working conditions. Muskegon workers and employers have bargained over wages, hours and working conditions since the city was founded as a lumbering community.

In 1882, Muskegon lumber mills were shut down for two months by a conflict over work hours, the "ten hours or no sawdust" strike. Later, the difficult work in the local foundries of the 1930s and '40s and the abuse of workers by some managers and owners turned Muskegon into an important center for the CIO and UAW.

Muskegon — and Michigan — benefited as union workers moved into the middle class and other companies competing for workers were influenced by union contracts. The economy was strong and life was good.

But a series of economic recessions, foreign competition and new technology have changed Michigan. Government, business and labor have become locked in a political battle that has little to do with creating jobs and everything to do with who will be in charge.

That's where we find ourselves today.

Michigan continues to struggle with unemployment that once led the nation. The state has dropped from first place to a still unenviable sixth, slowly inching toward economic recovery. Some argue becoming a right-to-work state will create jobs. Others counter, many jobs will become lower-paying and will lack the benefits needed to sustain a family.

All of this probably is true.

What also is true is that these largely political efforts have set the state back, creating more division at a time when all sides need to pull together. ...

Because the state did not have a proper debate over right to work, we will spend the next two years sorting the issue out in a political and legal battle that will cost us dearly.

But we should not let that distract us from the most important issue: jobs.