When the citizens of Michigan recently failed to pass Proposition 2, which would have established the right to collective bargaining in our State Constitution, we signaled to members of the Republican party that now was the time to launch their all out attack on organized labor. When Prop 2 lost by 15-points, we demonstrated to them not only that unions weren’t as strong in the State as the once were, but that we, the voters, didn’t care. (The measure even lost in historically liberal Washtenaw County.) And, right now, with just two weeks left in the lame duck session, we’re seeing evidence of a mounting assault. Republicans, to put it crudely, are getting in place to take the kill-shot.
On Monday the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which had been previously been neutral on the subject, came out in favor of so-called “right-to-work,” or “freedom-to-work,” legislation, which would essentially starve unions in our State by seriously restricting their ability to collect dues and “agency fees” from workers. (More on this later.) And, yesterday, our Governor, Rick Snyder, who had previously said that right-to-work legislation was “not on (his) agenda,” as it was too “divisive” and “polarizing,” abruptly changed direction and announced that, as or right now, it “is on the agenda.” The following is from the Detroit Free Press.
Right-to-work is now “on the agenda” at the state Capitol, but no decision has been made on whether to pass such a law, Gov. Rick Snyder said today…
Snyder made the comments after a lengthy meeting in his Capitol office with the Legislature’s GOP leaders, House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville.
Snyder said talks will continue and no decisions have been made.
He did say that there is a view that unions must put something on the table if right-to-work is not to proceed, after having gone ahead with a collective bargaining ballot proposal against his urging in last month’s election…
As Michigan Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Rich Studley noted to the press, “This action (assuming Republicans move forward with something) would make Michigan the 24th state (after Indiana) to enact freedom-to-work legislation.” He went on to say that it was necessary, as it would “help create and retain jobs in Michigan and improve our state’s economic competitiveness.”
While it’s undoubtedly something that corporate America wants, as it weakens unions, and drives down employee wages, it’s not something that’s historically proven to help improve the lot of workers and their families. The following points come from a fact sheet produced by American Rights at Work.
• These (right-to-work) laws drive down wages for all workers, including non-union members, women, and people of color. Workers living in right-to-work states earn about $1,500 less per year than workers in states without these laws. The wage penalty is even higher for women and workers of color. (Source)
• Workers in right-to-work states are less likely to have health insurance. The rate of employer-sponsored health insurance for workers in right-to-work states is 2.6 percentage points lower than in states without these restrictions. (Source)
• Right to work makes workplaces more dangerous. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is 52.9 percent higher in right-to-work states. (Source)
• Communities lose jobs when wages are lowered by right to work. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that for every $1 million in wage cuts, the local economy sheds six jobs. (Source)
• Right to work does not improve the employment rate. In fact, 8 of the 12 states with the highest unemployment have right-to-work laws. (Source)
• According to a report from Ohio University, these laws actually led to a decrease in employment in certain industries. (Source)
And, here, for those of you who enjoy graphics, is an image borrowed from today’s Detroit News, showing the states that currently have right-to-work laws. As you’ll notice, they’re almost exclusively states that voted in favor of the pro-corporate Romney/Ryan agenda in the last election.
As for how right-to-work legislation works, it’s pretty straight-forward. Once passed, the legislation would make “union security” clauses in collective bargaining agreements illegal. These clauses make it possible for unions to stay financially viable by ensuring that even those who aren’t union members still contribute toward the union, if they’re working in a union shop and benefiting from the activities of said union. (Under current law in Michigan, if you work in a union shop, and choose not to join, and pay dues, it’s required that you pay what is called an “agency fee,” which, in all cases, is somewhat less than the union dues being paid by other employees.) Without the union security clause, it’s almost inevitable that more people will opt-out of their unions, hoping to get a little more in each paycheck, while continuing to enjoy the wages and benefits negotiated by the union. Of course, short term benefits are not the same as long term gains. With decreased funding, and fragmented workplaces, it’s almost a certainty that unions will be weakened, worker pay will fall, and the workplace safety standards that many of our ancestors fought so hard for will begin to erode.
Fortunately, people seem to be rising to the occasion, not wanting the same thing to happen in Michigan that just happened in Indiana.
For those of you who would like to do more than just sign a petition, people are beginning to organize. Only a few minutes ago, I received the following note from the Washtenaw Community Action Team (WCAT).
In Ann Arbor with an hour or two to spare? WCAT and our allies urgently need help with data entry for a campaign against the “right to work” law that Michigan Republicans will be introducing very soon.
“Data Entry and Phone Banking Party: BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop)
10 AM – 6 PM every day until we finish
LEO/GEO office: 330 East Liberty Suite 3F, Ann Arbor, 48104, between Fifth and Division (if driving, the underground parking off of Fifth is convenient)
To help win the fight against so-called right-to-work legislation, we need to get all our potential activists into our database. We also need to call all of them to get them to take action.
So, drop in for an hour or two as we do the grunt work of protecting workers rights in Michigan.
PLEASE RSVP TO: Robert Vodicka, firstname.lastname@example.org
[note: My introduction to WCAT can be found here.]
Also, the UAW will be rallying in Lansing on Thursday, at the Statehouse. Those interested in participating are being asked to meet at UAW Local 724 (450 Clare Street, Lansing), beginning at 8:00 AM. Further information can be found here.
I certainly don’t have any insight into what Rick Snyder is thinking, but my sense is that he was telling the truth during the campaign when he said of right-to-work that, “It is a divisive, polarizing issue that will drive people apart when we need everyone at the table working to reinvent Michigan.” As I understand it, Democrats in Lansing are making threats, and telling Republicans that they’ll get even with them later, by withholding support for other legislation, if this is jammed through during what remains of this legislative session, but my sense is that it will call come down to Rick Snyder, and whether he’s strong enough to stand up to the pressure being put on him by his party and the wealthy business owners of Michigan, like Dick DeVos. Fortunately, Snyder has stood up to them in the past. Just prior to the election, as you’ll recall, he vetoed the voter suppression package that the Republicans had attempted to pass. Sadly, though, those instances are few and far between, and I don’t know that he’ll be able to do the same thing this time, unless there’s an overwhelming and immediate response from pro-labor forces.
update: The war has officially started, in spite of the fact that Snyder has said that no decision has been made. The television ads, funded by a right wing group calling itself the Michigan Freedom Fund, have begun airing… Here’s the opening salvo.
[note: Michigan Freedom Fund is headed by Greg McNeilly, an employee of Dick DeVos's Windquest Group.]
update: The protests have begun in Lansing as well. Following is video shot earlier today. As mentioned above, these protests are expected to continue into tomorrow, and grow.