This afternoon, as over 10,000 protesters surrounded the Capitol building in Lansing, Governor Snyder singed into law legislation that would make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state. When asked why it was so urgent that this be done now, during the lame duck session, outside of the accepted procedural process, Snyder essentially blamed the unions, who, according to him, had gone too far when the’y attempted to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the State’s constitution during the last election. “I asked them not to go forward (with Proposition 2),” Snyder said to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell this afternoon. “And the reason I said is, ‘You’re going to start a very divisive discussion. It’ll be about collective bargaining first, but it’ll create a big stir about right-to-work in addition to collective bargaining’.”
So,the unions brought this on themselves by “overreaching,” and initiating a dialogue on collective bargaining that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. Sounds plausible, right?
Only, that’s not quite the truth, as I learned just now from Snyder friend, and former Michigan GOP chair Ron Weiser, who was caught on tape at an August 9, 2012 Tea Party event, explaining how he, Dick DeVos, John Engler and others, had been planning this since 2007, just waiting for the right opportunity. Here’s the video, followed by a clip from Salon.com.
…In the video, Weiser describes hiring a political consultant and “working on that full-time” from October 2007 through the following March. Weiser, a former real-estate developer and U.S. ambassador who’s now the national RNC finance chair, describes a plan to gather signatures to put right to work on the ballot in 2008.
But Weiser tells the crowd that the strategy changed after a meeting in Washington with former Michigan Governor John Engler (now the president of the Business Roundtable), former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, billionaire donor Dick DeVos, and “some people from AFP (Americans for Prosperity),” the Koch-backed Tea Party group. At that meeting, Weiser says in the video, “what we determined was that to win that election, and to be sure we were gonna win it, we couldn’t have a governor that was against it. So we decided to wait. Wait until we had a governor. Now we have a legislature and we have a governor.” That governor is Rick Snyder.
Nowhere in the video clip does Weiser express concern about Snyder’s expressed antipathy towards right to work. But clearly, right to work supporters had no reason to worry.
Snyder’s previously avowed lack of interest in right to work was one of the building blocks in a media narrative casting the governor (slogan: “One Tough Nerd”) as a moderate problem-solver. The Detroit Free Press, which endorsed Snyder in 2010, noted in a Sunday editorial that it had frequently “trusted Snyder’s judgment” on economic policy, in part because “we believed him” when he promised to be “a pragmatist focused like a laser on initiatives that promised to raise standards of living for all Michiganders.” With a rushed-through right to work bill poised for Snyder’s signature, the editors wrote, “That trust has now been betrayed…”
It wasn’t just the Free Press. An August New York Times article offered a sympathetic portrait of the governor as a man trying to steer a middle course in a partisan era. But as some Democrats argued, that was an unjustifiably generous view of Snyder’s record, including on labor: While disclaiming interest in “Right to Work,” he signed a series of lower-profile anti-union bills into law. Those included denying collective bargaining rights to graduate student research assistants and domestic care-givers, and dramatically expanding the power of appointed emergency managers to shred the provisions of public workers’ union contracts…
So, it would seem that Snyder was on-board from the outset. Or at least Weiser didn’t have reason to believe that Snyder’s often-repeated campaign promise, that right-to-work wasn’t “on (his) agenda,” would be an obstacle. Either way, we’re now living in the Michigan envisioned by John Engler 25 years ago, a Michigan no longer tethered to the legacy of the 1936 Flint Sit-Down Strike, the subsequent Battle of the Overpass, and everything that came afterward. What happened today is a historic break with history. It’s one think to pass right-to-work legislation in Alabama. It’s quite another to do it here, where the American labor movement became a force to be reckoned with, and where the middle class was born.
But Snyder continues to call himself a friend of labor. Earlier today, on Mike Huckabee’s radio program, he explaining how this legislation would ultimately be a good thing for unions, as it would force them to better articulate their “value proposition” to workers. “I actually don’t view this as anti-union,” said Snyder. And, apparently, his team was even able to round up a small handful of union members to back him up him up in this ridiculous assertion. Here’s a video that his office released today, of libertarian auto workers speculating as to how much better things will be in a right-to-work Michigan.
I know you all know this, but I think it’s worth repeating at this point that, despite what Snyder and others may say, no one was forced to join a union under the system which we had, until this afternoon, been living under. Conservative workers, like the clearly-friendless men featured in the above video, who didn’t like union politics didn’t have to join. They could just pay an agency fee for those non-political services which the union provided, and, in that way, they could enjoy union representation without funding Democratic candidates, and other activities with which they might not agree. So, for Snyder to suggest, as he has on several occasions, that people were losing their jobs because they didn’t want to join a union, is complete bullshit. And, despite what Snyder says, this has nothing to do with his being “pro-worker.” I know it’s easy to lose sight of the truth in blinding shit-storms, like the one we’re fighting our way through now, but here’s one thing I know to be true, like I know that my trusty compass always points north. The Koch brothers don’t cut blank checks and send representatives across the country to work on initiatives like this one because they care about the plight of workers. If that were the case, we would have seen them assisting workers in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. No, this is about breaking unions in order to clear the way for significantly reduced employee pay, and the rollback of costly worker safety programs. This is about increasing corporate profits, and shifting the balance of power away from workers and back to those in possession of capital, and, if you think differently, you’re just not paying attention.
[The right-to-work strategy, for those of you who haven’t been following this in the news, is simple and brilliant. It allows people working in union shops to opt out of paying union dues and agency fees, while still being able to benefit from union-negotiated contracts. The incentive for workers is clear. They can stop contributing toward their respective union, and immediately see an increase in their take-home pay of approximately 2%. In the short term, the repercussions will be minimal, but, as time goes on, the union, starved of operating capital, will become less effective… less a threat to those in power, and less able to negotiate on behalf of workers. And, perhaps most importantly, at least from the Republican perspective, they’ll be less able to engage politically. Their “get out the vote” initiatives will wane, as will their contributions to Democratic political candidates. This, in other words, is a “win-win” for conservatives. It increases corporate power/profits, which strengthens their base, and, at the same time, it seriously cripples the Democratic party in perpetuity.]
And, speaking of the wealthy industrialists who invested in making this happen, here’s a bit more from that Salon piece I quoted from above.
…But in retrospect, said the (United Auto Workers vice president Cindy) Estrada, “to have that big a change of heart so suddenly tells me that there must have been a piece of Governor Snyder that was planning this all along.” She said she believes Snyder “was influenced by outsiders, like the Koch brothers and ALEC, and then other very powerful insiders like Dick Devos and the Mackinac Center.” In other words, the conservatives who helped get him elected.
While Snyder spent nearly $6 million of his own cash on his 2010 campaign, he had serious back-up. As Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll reported last winter, the Republican Governors Association spun off a short-term PAC called RGA Michigan 2010 which spent over $8.3 million, “54 percent more than any other PAC had poured into any election in Michigan history” (some of that cash was allegedly funneled out of state, but over $5 million went to the state GOP). Among the group’s top donors: David Koch, Paul Singer, and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. $1,485,000 came from the DeVos clan, who co-founded the direct-marketing company Amway.
Dick Devos, a former Amway CEO, was the GOP’s self-funded (failed) gubernatorial nominee in 2006. During that campaign, he said he had no interest in “Right to Work.” But like Snyder, he’s had an apparent change of heart. The business group West Michigan Policy Forum, which Devos chairs, recently announced that it was prepared to get a right to work law on the ballot if legislators didn’t send one to the governor’s desk. A Mother Jones review of tax records revealed that the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation is also a donor to The Mackinac Center, a conservative think tank also backed by the Walton Family Foundation and the Charles G. Koch Foundation. As Kroll reported, Snyder’s “emergency manager” law adopted four out of four recommendations from Mackinac.
Paul Singer chairs the Manhattan Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank which has received funding from a Koch-backed foundation. Singer also directs Elliott Management, which played a lead role in buying up the debt of Delphi, the auto parts company which supplies to GM and Chrysler, and made a major profit off of the auto bailout. As Greg Palast reported in The Nation, “Of the 29 Delphi plants operating in the United States when the hedge funders began buying up control, only four remain, with not a single union production worker.”
David Koch was famously impersonated by blogger Ian Murphy in a prank phone call congratulating Scott Walker on his union-busting fortitude. The Kochs are major supporters of ALEC, and provided the funds to start AFP, a successor to the Koch-backed Citizens for a Sound Economy. As Lee Fang reported at The Nation, in 2008 through 2011, Mackinac and AFP-Michigan vastly outspent the union-backed group Progress Michigan.
Amway, Mackinac and the Manhattan Institute are all ALEC members. The right to work bills passed by the Michigan House and Senate have substantial overlap with the wording and content of ALEC’s model “Right to Work Act”…
It goes on from there, that but that’s all that I can stomach… Let’s just say that there’s ample evidence, given what Weiser said above, and the funding data that investigative journalists have been able to uncover thus far, that this wasn’t a case in which our legislators were simply listening to the people of Michigan, and doing what they wanted. If it were, the Republicans wouldn’t have snuck an unnecessary appropriation into the bill, making it “referendum-proof.” (According to Michigan law, spending bills can’t be put to a public vote.)
The bottom line is that the people of Michigan have been sold out. Our futures have been leveraged. The sacrifices of our ancestors have been shat upon. And for what?
We should be ashamed of ourselves for having bought into the Snyder myth. Best case scenario, he’s a weak leader who couldn’t stand up to the well-financed assault from the far right of his party. Worst case scenario, this is who he really is. Either way, he was wrong for Michigan, and we need to turn our energies toward finding a suitable replacement who the people of Michigan can get behind.
update: Our friend Chris Savage, over at Eclectablog, is reporting that Dick DeVoss could well have set this in motion prior to the November election, when he agreed to bankroll the campaign to kill Proposal 2. Here’s a clip.
…(M)ulti-millionaire Dick DeVos was heavily involved in the Right to Work for Less push. He assured Republican legislators that he would bankroll their fights against any recall efforts that may result from their RTWFL votes and threatened to withhold campaign funds or even fund primary challenges if they didn’t fall in line and this included Governor Snyder who is quite vulnerable to a primary challenge (or at least was until yesterday). Additionally, I’ve learned he spent $20 million on the effort to defeat Proposal 2 in November — the Protect Working Families ballot initiative — in exchange for assurances that the legislature would pass RTWFL legislation and that Snyder would sign it…