The Mackinac Center: National Leader in Plan to End Unions

The Heritage Foundation was founded in 1973 with money provided by Joe Coors of the Coors Brewing Corporation. Joe wanted to create an outside operation to supply corporate-friendly “research” as well as testimony-ready experts for Republican politicians.

In 1975, ALEC was created to do the same on the state level by supplying model legislation written by corporate lobbyists, ready made for introduction. A few years later, in 1984, the Mackinac Center was founded by insurance companies to bring this corporate policy-making machinery to Michigan.

ALEC promises corporate funders that “winning the public policy debate will … have a tremendous effect on the bottom line of your company.”

A 1991 ALEC fundraising letter.

The handful of conservative think tanks then in place had enough success that by 1992 a franchising operation known as the State Policy Network was founded. Run in tandem with the Mackinac Center’s Think Tank School, the SPN has managed to create 63 conservative think tanks in every state except North Dakota.

In 2016, SPN launched a new program to “deliver the mortal blow to permanently break” the union “stranglehold” on the country. It intends to do this by providing the resources necessary in each state to “defund and defang” the only organized opposition to its pro-corporate agenda.

A 2016 SPN fundraising letter.

Many of the techniques will sound familiar to those of us in Michigan who have been fighting most of these proposals for years.

With the Janus case soon to be decided by the United States Supreme Court, Right To Work will almost certainly be imposed nation-wide. While it has had only limited effect in Michigan, it has long been a Republican goal, with the hope to massively suppress union membership.

Ending payroll dues deduction serves to cut off any union’s life blood. Gutting certification requirements serves to unprofessionalize teaching and in turn, justify lower salaries. And ending collective bargaining kills any union’s greatest power to help its members and justify the payment of dues.

SPN also thoughtfully provides a Toolkit to help conservative think tanks across the country avoid the mistake of revealing their union-killing intentions, and instead use focus group approved messaging.

“Using terms like ‘union fat cats,’ ‘corrupt union bosses’, and other overly negative language reduces support for reform.” Instead, use terms like “workplace freedom” and “worker’s choice.”

One of the proposals addressed by the Toolkit, “Worker Voting Rights,” is an ALEC-written model bill that would require every local union to recertify every year. The MEA has 1,130 such local unions.

This proposal has been on the Mackinac Center’s wish list for many years. The intent is to tie up union time and resources that would otherwise be available to provide services to its members (reducing yet again opportunities to earn dues) and in the process cutting the number of local units and therefore, members. Defang and defund.

Its appearance in both the Toolkit and the Mackinac Center’s wish list is no coincidence. SPN gives the Mackinac Center props for its role in providing this anti-union propaganda (“intellectual ammunition”).

For each of its proposals, the Toolkit provides expected objections together with ready-made responses. For Worker Voting Rights, it suggests countering anyone exposing its union-busting purpose by pleading that it is instead simple democracy. “…just like voters have the opportunity to vote to elect lawmakers.”

SPN think tanks eagerly regurgitate these talking points. F. Vincent Vernuccio, until very recently the Mackinac Center Director of Labor Policy, wrote a guest editorial shilling for the same ALEC bill: “Just like we vote for our representatives in Washington…”


The Toolkit is careful that its think tank members not mistake these Fifth Avenue selling points for the ultimate motivation behind these union-killing proposals. It makes this clear on the very next page :

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