Work on so-called “Right to Work” legislation is moving ahead quickly in Lansing. Thursday morning, Governor Rick Snyder endorsed the plan that would prevent unions from requiring that all workers in an organized workplace join that union. But that ban would not apply to unionized police and fire departments.
Snyder held a news conference with Republican legislative leaders to announce the deal. The governor says he’s doesn’t care for the “Right to Work” label usually given to such legislation: “I’m asking that we pass an act that calls for workplace fairness and equity, to be pro-worker, to give freedom of choice to a workplace, and that the legislators work promptly and efficiently in moving it through the legislature. And when it arrives on my desk I plan on signing it.”
Snyder says the legislation is “pro-worker”, not “anti-union”, adding that unions play an important and positive role in Michigan. That point was echoed by Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, and by state House Speaker Jase Bolger of Marshall.
Bolger says the legislation will empower working people: “They deserve the freedom to make decisions for themselves and their family. They deserve the freedom to decide which organizations they want to join and which organizations they do not want to join. We’re talking about fairness; we’re talking about freedom; we’re talking about equality. These are basic American rights. These are values that should unite us; they should not divide us.”
But unions and other opponents of the legislation don’t see it that way. The group Progress Michigan quickly posted a video on You Tube featuring three members of the Laborers Union, including Lynn Coleman. He says the plan would hurt all workers, not just those in unions: “In Right to Work states, 21 percent fewer people have health coverage. I would tell them, in Right to Work states, the average wage, not just union workers’ wage(s), the average wage, is $5,300 less than in non-Right to Work states.”
Another union member said the proposed Michigan law would, in his words, “give everyone the right to work for less”.
The governor’s office posted its own You Tube video encouraging support for the legislation.
The Gongwer News Service and the Detroit Free Press report that several people were arrested by state police on Thursday as they tried to enter the Senate chamber to protest the legislation. That prompted an order closing the State Capitol building to the public. Democrats responded by filing an emergency lawsuit asking a judge to re-open the Capitol to the public.
Governor Snyder says police and firefighters aren’t included in the plan because they’re already covered by Public Act 312. It bans strikes by public safety workers and requires binding arbitration to settle contract disputes. But Snyder says that isn’t the only reason:
“It’s a unique circumstance. Because of the dangerous nature of their work, where it can be important that they have that special bond, that connection between them, that we thought it wasn’t appropriate to move forward with that option at this point in time.”
Snyder says Michigan needs what’s now known as the “Workplace Fairness and Equality Act” to add steam to the state’s economic recovery. He says Indiana saw a measurable increase in economic development after it approved a “right to work” law last February. The governor says Michigan has lost potential investment because it doesn’t have a similar law:
“Just recently we were talking to a group of site selectors, not a scientific study but just the feedback we got from them, they said about 25 percent of the opportunities that were presented to them to look at different states to set up, is they excluded any state that didn’t allow workers the freedom to choose. That’s a huge loss of opportunity because we are showing progress in Michigan and we need to keep that comeback coming.”
But Linda Teeter at the group Michigan Citizen Action says the governor’s positive assessment is very premature:
“There have been studies that have been done that have shown that it doesn’t protect workers, nor has there been an increase in employment and investment. My sense is that it is way too soon for Indiana to have shown results; they’ve have just passed that law. So, how do we know that it is successful?”
Teeter says the legislation is being pushed through without proper hearings and public input. Republican legislative leaders say they expect “right to work” legislation to be on Snyder’s desk before lawmakers adjourn for the holidays. It will be attached to budget bills, meaning that opponents won’t have the option to call for a voter referendum. Michigan voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have added a right to collective bargaining last month.