When Michigan begins seeing the economic benefits of right-to-work, it will have a first-term representative to thank.
Representative Mike Shirkey of Jackson took office only two years ago, in 2010, but he buckled down immediately on his top legislative priority, right-to-work legislation.
He tells me today that his interest in labor issues began 40 years ago, when he got his “first taste of oppressive workpace rules” working as a supervisor of a production line at GM.
Shirkey attributes right-to-work’s success in Michigan partly to political luck (Machiavelli would approve). When unions introduced a ballot measure attempting to constitutionally prohibit right-to-work legislation in Michigan, it changed the political conversation. And Indiana’s right-to-work conversion provided a sense of urgency for Michiganders seeking to remain economically competitive.
Suddenly, Shirkey’s pet issue was in the spotlight. “A special opportunity came along, and we seized it,” he tells me today. “[In politics], you still have to rely on timing that you cannot control.”
It’s not just luck, though. Jase Bolger, speaker of the Michigan House, tells me that Shirkey deserves significant credit for the legislation’s success. Shirkey has gained notoriety for talking about right-to-work whenever the opportunity arises.
But the first-term legislator is reluctant to take credit. True, “when I started my campaign, I made this my top priority, [and] not on a whim,” Shirkey says. But “it literally was a team effort, and I was privileged to play a very small part in a very large effort.”
Still, Shirkey is thrilled to see his dream codified. “I am excited for Michigan, I am excited for Michigan workers, and I am excited for future generations of Michiganders,” he says. “We removed the last remaining obstacle for many who may not have considered [starting a business in Michigan]. The opportunity here will come our way mostly because we have such a highly skilled workforce. It will be evident soon.”
Tonight, he says, he’s going to go home, hug his wife, and have a nice glass of wine to celebrate. After that? “Begin working on the next things we need to do to reinvent Michigan!” he says.