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Michigan Republicans Push for a Vote on 'Right to Work' for Less Before the End of the Year

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Chris Savage is a Michigan-based political writer and owner of Eclectablog. You also can follow him on Facebook and Twitter

Gov. Rick Snyder now says "right to work" for less is "on the table." 

For months and months, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has been playing Switzerland on the topic of "right to work" for less (RTWFL)—the Orwellian-named anti-labor union drive—saying, "It's not on my agenda" but never promising to veto RTWFL legislation. He literally used that exact phrase every single time he was asked about it right up until this past week.

This week, all of that changed. After a meeting with top Republican leaders from the state House and Senate, it's now "on the table."

Update: The bill is moving fast through the state legislature today. Call your Michigan House representative to say you oppose the "right to work" for less bill: 888-979-7280. 

RTWFL is also known as "right to freeload." In RTWFL states, workers aren't required to pay union dues even if they work for a union company with the higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions that come with a union job. The unions are forced by law to protect all workers, even those who don't contribute financially toward the expenses incurred by providing those protections. Mandatory union membership is already forbidden by law.

Michigan State AFL-CIO President Karla Swift reminded Michigan residents that workers earn less  in RTWFL states:

The interest groups pushing this latest power grab in Lansing are ignoring…some basic economic facts that should inform any thoughtful discussion of Right to Work legislation. Workers, union or nonunion, make an average of $1,500 less per year in Right to Work states.  They are also less likely to have pension or health care benefits.  

Since the tea party wave of 2010, Michigan's government has been completely under the control of extreme conservative lawmakers who, when they aren't engaging in an ideological war on women, seem to have a nearly single-minded desire to crush unions. While they have a particularly acute disdain for public employee unions, according to Tony Trupiano, host of the labor-friendly "First Shift with Tony Trupiano" radio show, there is a target on the backs of all  Michigan union members.

"My feeling, quite honestly, is that the GOP is just about power for power's sake and wants to exert their control on the minority as a reminder of their reach, no matter how displaced it is," said Trupiano. "They will likely leave police and firefighters out of RTWFL because our Constitution already allows them collective bargaining rights. But I am not optimistic that they will narrow their focus to only the public-sector unions. They will go for broke, if given the chance, and it will be to their own political peril."

Michigan has less than two weeks left in its lame-duck session and Republicans have been scrambling to pass RTWFL since it began. One unlikely ally has been Republican state Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. Richardville is from Monroe, a blue-collar town, and appears to be reticent to engage in direct battle with labor unions in this way, perhaps to avoid the political fallout that would ensue in his district. He has suggested restricting RTWFL only to public employee unions and has been, in general, against bringing any RTWFL legislation to the floor.

However, Tuesday's meeting, one of several that have taken place in the past two weeks, appears to have shifted power to the most anti-union lawmakers in the legislature. The Detroit Free Press is reporting that Snyder has declared the RTWFL is now "on the table," after all:

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's remarks signal a marked departure from his previous stance. For months, the governor said such a law was not on his agenda.

Snyder made the comments after a lengthy meeting in his Capitol office with the legislatures GOP leadership, House Speaker James "Jase" Bolger and Richardville....

[Snyder said] 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.

"There's been discussions with people in labor," he said.

However, "this isn't just a trade-off or bargaining, per se," he said. "This is about doing what's right for the citizens of Michigan."

In other words, this is punishment for the attempt by Michigan unions to enshrine collective bargaining rights with their Protect Working Families ballot proposal in November. Though the proposal was not adopted, Michigan Republicans appear to believe that repercussions are in order.

The goal of RTWFL is clear: reduce union membership and take away any power that unions have. Anti-union groups are even robocalling Michiganders, referring to RTWFL as a "Freedom to Work" law. But, in Michigan and across the country, unions play an important role. Michigan Education Association (MEA) public school educator Rochelle Noel told me, "Unions provide a much-needed balance to our corporate-driven world. Without unions, Michigan’s workers would be subject to the whims of their bosses and the rights of workers would no longer be protected. We have a great tradition of unionization in Michigan where both union and nonunion workers and their families benefit."

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which has previously said they do not support RTWFL, jumped on the bandwagon this week, throwing their support behind the union-crushing legislation along with ultra-conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity, which held a rally at the state Capitol building on Tuesday. Progress Michigan Executive Director Zack Pohl said, "It’s pretty clear that chamber boss Rich Studley has been lying to Michigan voters for months by hiding the chamber’s true position on 'right to work.' Now the CEO bosses are making a political power grab by pushing legislation that will squeeze even more money out of the working middle class and leave workers with no protections for things like job security, pensions and working conditions. Michiganders overwhelmingly support collective bargaining rights. It’s time for Lansing politicians to get their priorities straight and focus on creating jobs and improving education, not on passing laws that undermine collective bargaining rights."

Labor groups haven't thrown in the towel, however. "As far as we are concerned, every day is a lobby day until legislators assure us that they will focus on less harmful issues," said Mike Polkki, a mine worker from Ishpeming who visited the Capitol on Tuesday. "'Right to work' would set all Michigan workers back in terms of wages, benefits and safety on the job. Instead of attacking the middle class, our lawmakers should work to build it back up."

This sentiment is echoed by Working America state Director Fran Brennan. "Our members tell us everyday they want elected officials to dedicate their time to making Michigan better for all working families. We want them to concentrate on re-building Michigan, not tearing it apart," she told me. "The last few weeks, our members have been disturbed by some state politicians and their special-interest friends who are attempting to pass a law to weaken working families now and for decades to come. They are trying to undermine workers’ rights, our retirement security and our kids’ future. In states that have RTWFL laws, workers have a lower standard of living, make an average of $1,500 less per year and go without health insurance more frequently."

Swift sent out an action email just hours after news broke that Snyder had changed his position on RTWFL, informing union members of a Citizens Lobby Day at the Capitol the next day starting at 8 a.m.

Brennan, too, says Working America members will be working hard to keep Michigan from becoming a RTWFL state. "Our members can not afford surrendering another $1,500 from their annual paychecks," she said. "They have become empowered and are now engaged in writing hundreds of letters and making hundreds of calls to their elected officials. "Right to work" is wrong for Michigan and Working America members are determined to have their voices heard now so all workers voices can be heard in the future! And, we will hold politicians accountable for their actions."

For more information on the battle to keep Michigan a union-friendly state, follow the Michigan State AFL-CIO and Protect Working Families Facebook pages for updates.

[Photo by Anne C. Savage, used with permission.]

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