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Michigan becomes latest right-to-work state

Associated Press
December 11, 2012
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As the chants of angry protesters filled the Capitol, Michigan lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to right-to-work legislation, dealing a devastating and once-unthinkable defeat to organized labor in a state that has been a cradle of the movement for generations.

The Republican-dominated House ignored Democrats' pleas to delay the passage and instead approved two bills with the same efficiency as the Senate showed last week. One measure dealt with private sector workers, the other with government employees. Both were sent to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed them promptly Tuesday afternoon.

"This is about freedom, fairness and equality," House Speaker Jase Bolger said during floor debate. "These are basic American rights — rights that should unite us."

After the vote, he said, Michigan's future "has never been brighter, because workers are free."

Once the laws are enacted, the state where the United Auto Workers was founded and labor has long been a political titan will join 23 others with right-to-work laws, which ban requirements that non-union employees pay union dues. Indiana passed a similar right-to-work bill earlier this year.

Supporters say the laws give workers more choice and support economic growth, but critics insist the real intent is to weaken organized labor by encouraging workers to "freeload" by withholding money unions need to bargain effectively with management.

Protesters in the gallery chanted "Shame on you!" as the measures were approved. Union backers clogged the hallways and grounds shouting "No justice, no peace," and Democrats warned that hard feelings from the legislation and Republicans' refusal to hold committee hearings or allow a statewide referendum would be long lasting.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and other Democrats in the state's congressional delegation met with Snyder on Monday and urged him to slow things down.

"For millions of Michigan workers, this is no ordinary debate," Levin said. "It's an assault on their right to have their elected bargaining agent negotiate their pay, benefits and working conditions, and to have all who benefit from such negotiations share in some way in the cost of obtaining them."

Although impassioned, the crowds were considerably smaller than those drawn by right-to-work legislation in Indiana earlier this year and in Wisconsin in 2011, during consideration of a law curtailing collective bargaining rights for most state employees. Those measures provoked weeks of intense debate, with Democrats boycotting sessions to delay action and tens of thousands of activists occupying statehouses.

In Michigan, Republicans acted so quickly that opponents had little time to plan massive resistance.

Snyder and GOP leaders announced their intentions last Thursday. Within hours, the bills were hurriedly pushed through the Senate as powerless Democrats objected in vain. After a legally required five-day waiting period, the House approved final passage.

Protesters began assembling before daylight outside the sandstone-and-brick Capitol, chanting and whistling in the chilly darkness and waving placards with slogans such as "Stop the War on Workers." Others joined a three-block march to the building, some wearing coveralls and hard hats.

Valerie Constance, a reading instructor for the Wayne County Community College District and member or the American Federation of Teachers, sat on the Capitol steps with a sign shaped like a tombstone. It read: "Here lies democracy."

"I do think this is a very sad day in Michigan history," Constance said.

The crowds filled the rotunda area, beating drums and chanting. The chorus rose to a deafening thunder as House members voted. Later, protesters surged toward a building across the street where Snyder has his office. Two people were arrested when they tried to get inside, state police said.

But by late afternoon, the demonstrators had mostly dispersed.

Snyder insisted the matter wasn't handled with undue haste and that right-to-work was a long-discussed issue in Michigan.

"There has been lots of time for citizens to contact legislators and share their feelings," he said in an interview with radio station WWJ-AM.

Michigan gives the right-to-work movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt, where the 2010 election and tea party movement produced assertive Republican majorities that have dealt unions repeated setbacks.

Opponents said they would press Snyder to use his line-item veto authority to remove a $1 million appropriation from the bills, making them eligible for a statewide referendum. But the House swiftly rejected a Democratic amendment to that effect.

Lawmakers who backed the bills "will be held accountable at the ballot box in 2014," said state Rep. Tim Greimel, the incoming House Democratic leader.

But Sen. John Proos, a Republican from St. Joseph who voted for both bills, predicted that objections would fade as the shift in policy brings more jobs to Michigan, which has one of the nation's worst unemployment rates.

"As they say in sports," he said, "the atmosphere in the locker room gets a lot better when the team's winning."

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  • union members
    You never know what union members will do when they don't get their way. They might cross their arms, stomp their feet, and...and file a grievance. That'll show'em.
  • Choice is the American Way
    Sorry Markus - This means only that the union fat cats and the democratic party will get less dollars. 75% of union dues do to the democrats as donatons and ads. This only gives employees the right to choose. Isnt that what the dems have been spouting or should a worker have to pay an extortoin fee to be able to work. National US Government statistics show higher average wageas and lower unemployment rates in right to work states. Get off the sheeple urine kool aid!
  • clueless man
    The answer is already about here; the housing and construction industry (and the accessory business which feed on it) is poised to lead us back to a more even and sustainable economy. Unfortunately, this will be accelerated because the American worker has been systematically stripped of middle class wages and benefits. It amazes me the number of people who root for the majority of Americans to make less money, while worshipping at the alter of non-productive money traders.
  • Unions Are Not Going Away
    I doubt that RTW will have much effect on union membership. Some workers will want to continue paying dues. Others, who are proud of labor unions' use of threats and violence to get what they want, will make sure that workers will continue to pay their dues by demonstrating what happens when a few who don't pay up "get what's coming to them". Hey look, the MI legislator (an elected official authorized to speak for the state government) who threatened us that "there will be blood" said that knowing he would get away with it -- and he wasn't even questioned about it! Hard working people who are committed to the success of the enterprise don't need unions -- ask any employer. But the law won't change human behavior.
  • Why force it?
    If union's are so good, then why do employees have to be FORCED to pay dues? Shouldn't the employees WANT to pay dues if the unions are so valuable? Clearly, the unions are not as valuable as they think. Right to Work is the best thing to happen to our labor force. Finally everyone will be on a level playing field!
  • Answer
    Where is the leadership to re-focus America on innovation and science that provided for our shared prosperity for the past 100 years? We voted in Obama so we'll have to wait 4 years to get the leader you are asking about. See you at the polls in 4 years, please make sure that you help point people in the right direction so the country doesn't make the same mistake again!
    • America's Future?
      Rolling back decades of hard fought workers rights in America. Is the next step eliminating workplace safety standards and child work laws so we can compete with China? Where is the leadership to re-focus America on innovation and science that provided for our shared prosperity for the past 100 years? These types of policies will only serve to weaken the average American's standard of living and further deepen the divide between rich and poor.
      • "Right to Further the Decline of America's Standard of Living"...
        ... should be what the bill is titled. It's clear that this isn't about the rights of workers to save a few dollars, but rather about driving down labor costs even further. Another step in the race to the bottom. How many more years until our labor costs match China & India? Is this really what America wants? It is not inevitable, but our current course will take us there.
      • Query...
        I have always been confused as to why workers (as opposed to unions) would protest right-to-work. The notion that "workers would recieve extra benefits without paying for them" is a bit of a red herring, since that is entirely the point of a union, (except replace "paying" with "working"). The answer isn't to make individuals who don't want the union pay for it; it's to let every worker get paid based on his own worth and merit.
      • Hooray!
        Everyone should have the "right to work" anywhere they can get hired and contribute to the company without being told they are "required" to join a union!
      • Fewer unions
        Fewer unions means less pay for your hard work.

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