Yesterday, Bertel posted that Michigan, home to the United Auto Workers and a state where twice the national average of workers are organized by labor unions, “might” soon pass a right-to-work law, something that is anathema to labor unions. It appears that law will be enacted even faster than soon. On Thursday afternoon, with thousands of protesters at the capitol representing both sides of the issue, the first step in the legislative process, approval by the state House of Representatives, took place with the passage of House Bill 4054. The legislation is expected to be passed by the Michigan Senate and signed into law by Governor Snyder by the middle of next week.
By giving workers a chance to opt-out of closed-shop arrangements, but more significantly, by depriving unions of automatic payroll deductions of dues, mandatory political contributions or, in the case of those who refuse to join, equivalent agency fees (which effectively force workers to join unions) the legislation would immediately reduce the strength and financial (read: political) power of organized labor in a state long associated with labor unions. After similar legislation passed in Wisconsin last year, AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees lost 45 percent of its dues-paying members in that state. About a third of Wisconsin’s teachers’ union members stopped paying dues.
Following an endorsement of the law by Gov. Rick Snyder, Republicans in the Michigan House of Representatives have rammed through the legislation on a mostly party line vote, 58-52. Per Michigan law, the bill sits for five days before the Michigan Senate takes it up and when it passes it will go to the governor’s desk to be signed. In a state where the Battle of the Rouge Overpass in Dearborn and the Buick sit-down strike in Flint are part of cultural lore (more here and here), Michigan as a right-to-work state would be psychological blow to the labor movement and a bit of a shock no matter where you stand on organized labor.
The House’s approval of HB 4054 prompted protests by Democratic representatives who briefly walked out of the House chamber to let the bill’s opponents, some of whom had been bussed into Lansing to protest the law, into the capitol building. Democrats had sought and received an injunction from an Ingham County judge ordering the Michigan State Police to allow union members and their supporters (from how young some of the protesters looked in the video my guess is that some were students from nearby Michigan State University) into the capitol building. The MSP had earlier declared a lockdown of the capitol, enforced by “squadrons” of state troopers, after protesters tried to storm the Senate chambers before the vote. Even after they allowed the protesters into the capitol rotunda, a phalanx of state police stood between the protesters and the legislative chambers. That was only hours after the governor and Republican legislators announced that the right-to-work legislation would proceed. State police reported that in the earlier incident, eight people were arrested after they were subdued with pepper spray. There were about 2,000 protesters near the capitol, representing both sides of the issue. Michigan Freedom Fund president Greg McNeilly, whose group has been running ads on television and radio recently in support of the bill, claimed that union members tore down his group’s banner. The Detroit News Reported some pushing and shoving.
The legislative initiative follows quickly upon the heels of the defeat of two ballot proposals in the November election that were heavily supported by organized labor that would have entrenched union power in the Michigan constitution. With Republicans holding both houses of the Michigan legislature, the right-to-work bill will be passed, signed by Gov. Snyder, and indeed become law, probably next Tuesday after the Michigan Senate approves it. When that happens, UAW president Ron King has promised that organized labor will use the recall and ballot initiative processes to overturn it, though an appropriation attached to the final bill makes it referendum-proof according to Michigan law.
Interestingly, the right-to-work issue was pretty much dead in the water in Michigan until the UAW and other unions poured millions of dollars into trying to pass those ballot issues, particularly Proposal 2, which was apparently perceived by voters as a union power grab. The proposal was defeated by a 57-43 margin, close to a landslide victory by American political standards. Introducing that legislation may have been a strategic error by King, the UAW and their public employee allies in AFSCME, SEIU and the Michigan Education Association. Gov. Snyder didn’t want to roil the waters and antagonize the unions so his allies in the state legislature were blocking RTW legislation. With the unions’ weakness apparent in the wake of the ballot proposals’ defeat, and a threat by conservative Republicans to mount what appeared to be a successful leadership challenge to Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, who was holding up the legislation on behalf of the governor, the governor relented and allowed the legislation to proceed.
The right-to-work law will have an immediate affect and not just on the UAW and other private sector unions in the automotive industry. Just about anything that happens in Detroit of consequence almost necessarily affects the domestic auto industry. It will be interesting to see how many of Detroit’s public employees stay loyal to their unions. Their union leaders have been fighting hard against concessions that Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and others say are necessary to save the city from its impending bankruptcy. The new law will give the mayor and the governor more leverage in dealing with the recalcitrant unions. In trying to hold back the floodwaters threatening organized labor following its reversals in Wisconsin, the UAW and its allies may have let the right-to-work dam burst in Michigan.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS