Thorner: Can MIchigan’s Right to Work success happen here in Illinois?

June 1, 2013


Illinois Seal


I recently participated in an Illinois Policy Institute briefing with Michigan State Sen. Patrick Colbeck, who was the primary sponsor of Michigan’s Right-to-Work legislation.  Colbeck would discuss the 2012 passage of Right to Work in Michigan and the steps that led the union-heavy state of Michigan to adopt such reform.

The question is: Could what worked in Michigan be applied here in Illinois?

 Michigan, as a Right to Work state, was an idea that started before Senator Patrick Colbeck was elected as a freshman senator in 2010.  Senator Colbeck describes himself as a “Johnny Come Late to the Fight.”

When Colbeck was elected, Michigan was the only state in the nation losing population.  Michigan also had an unemployment rate of 14%.

These facts became the impetus for Colbeck to begin thinking about how he could make a compelling case to the people of Michigan for Right to Work.  Most worrisome to Colbeck was how the family structure was being targeted and disrupted as members of families, especially children, were moving out of state to find work.

Two years ago Senator Colbeck felt he had the mandate to take a hard vote for turning Michigan around.  The tenor of the rank and file was changing.  The state had among its ranks 200,000 less union members than it had ten year earlier. There had also been a heavy loss of workers in the auto industry.  By a 3-1 margin people leaving the state were moving to Right to Work states.

Senator Colbeck knew he had to devise a jobs strategy to advance his mandate.  This strategy needed to be “noble, true, excellent and trustworthy.”  The question put forth by Colbeck was how to make Michigan rank #1 in job growth in the nation?  This Colbeck did without any money involved, realizing that turning the economy around would require changing the work environment in Michigan.

Once the commitment was made and the strategy devised, Colbeck knew it was essential to get his message out through town hall meetings and grass roots participation before a Right to Work bill could be introduced.

Even so, getting the bill passed and signed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder on Dec. 11, 2012, to have Michigan become the nation’s 24th right-to-work-state was in part due to good timing, good luck, and greed through overreach  by the UAW.  Its overreach was soundly defeated when in the Nov. 6, 2012 election union-sponsored Proposal 2 ( was voted down, meaning that the “collective bargaining” constitutional amendment was not approved by Michiganders.

Interesting questions entertained by Senator Colbeck:

1.  What was the reaction (feed back) you received from others with your push for Right to Work?  Rep. Colbeck was told that he was crazy and that getting Right to Work in Michigan was at best a 10 to 20 year program, which Colbeck didn’t accept.

2.  What was the advantage of having a super majority in the Senate, a three-vote margin in the House, and a Republican governor?  Colbeck admitted that it was definitely an asset as the vote was a partisan one.  Michigan governor Rick Snyder was definitely key in the legislation.  Snyder didn’t place it on his agenda, but neither did he rule it out.  In so doing Snyder’s non-committal action allowed him to vote for the bill.

3.  What must happen here in Illinois to make Illinois a Right to Work state as was accomplished in Michigan?  Rep. Colbeck expressed a conviction that any action had to start at getting individuals involved at the grassroots level, because of the nature of Illinois’s loop-sided, one-party government rule.

Results are already beginning to be seen in Michigan since it became a Right to Work state in December of 2012.  Michigan presently is experiencing the 6th fastest growing economy in this nation.

As would be expected, there is already a push back by Michigan unions who are aiming to take back the House and the governorship in 2014.  Rep. Colbeck, however, is confident this will not happen as Michiganders have seen the writing on the wall, and they like what they see!

Check out to read more about Patrick Colbeck, Republican Michigan Senate, 7th District, who calls himself a Problem Solver, Not a Politician.

Friday, May 31, 2013 at 12:10 PM | Permalink


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