• Dec 8th 2012 at 3:00PM
  • 491
There is no state in the union as thick with union politics as Michigan. Not even Wisconsin where Governor Scott Brown was subject to a recall election last year after trying to bust public employee unions. But Michigan's Governor is close to jamming the most anti-union law in the state's history into law this week without debate.

The issue was urgent enough to warrant a visit from President Obama, who flew in Monday afternoon and spoke at the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. Obama praised union workers for helping save the auto industry. And he said right to work laws won't help the middle class.

"These so-called 'right to work' laws, they don't have to do with economics; they have everything to do with politics," Obama said. "What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money."

Right to work laws let any employee who works in business that is unionized refuse to join the union or pay union dues. The laws erode the power of the unions by draining resources. Michigan would become the 24th state in the U.S. with right-to-work laws.

Michigan is home to the United Auto Workers, and the union is at war with Republican Governor Rick Snyder and the state legislature over plans to pass a right-to-work law in the state.

As state legislators, lobbyists and labor advocates debated the issue Thursday amidst union protests, eight people were arrested for resisting and obstructing a police officer as the protesters were trying to push passed police to get onto the Senate floor. More than fifty state police cars and units were deployed to the protest areas in the capitol city of Lansing. Police arrested several protesters and sprayed mace into the crowd when they tried to rush the Senate floor.

Conservatives and Republicans resent the political spending that organized labor unions spend on mostly Democratic candidates. Unions counter that unionized workplaces such as construction sites and auto plants achieve pay and benefit standards, workplace safety and training, and that it is wrong for workers to be hired who don't have to support those efforts.

Police and fire-fighters are excluded from the bill, in part because their opposition to such laws in other states have led to right-to-work laws being overturned.

Obama called the right-to-work initiative part of the "race to the bottom."

"America is not going to compete based on low-skill, low-wage, no workers' rights. That's not our competitive advantage," he said. "There's always going to be some other country that can treat its workers even worse."

The Michigan legislature is expected to take up the vote again Tuesday, and union organizers and protesters are expected to jam the capitol city. Geoff Kish, a union pipefitter from Davison, Michigan told The Detroit Free Press that he worked alongside nonunion tradespeople in the right-to-work state of Louisiana and believes if the change is approved, "it will drive down wages, benefits and the standard of living in Michigan."

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat and CurrenTV host, said on her show: "Right-to-work bills will basically eviscerate workers' ability to organize together and bargain for better wages or working conditions."

Snyder, on Fox TV, countered: "It's really about freedom to choose," he said. "It's about sticking up for the workers in our state. We need workplace equality and fairness, and that's what this legislation is about."

The bill was introduced during a lame-duck session and Snyder said he plans to sign it after it is "fast-tracked." The legislation passed both houses of the state legislature with absolutely no hearings and no public debate, and Snyder could sign it as quickly as Tuesday. The move is happening in a lame-duck session because the new legislature arriving next month has smaller Republican majorities.

Republicans have also attached the legislation to an appropriations bill so that it can't be overturned later by state referendum, as happened with the Ohio right-to-work law Ohio Governor Kasich signed last year that sharply restricted collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Democrats in Michigan believe that Republicans are jamming an unpopular agenda as their power weakens heading into the next election, and that the measure could even lead to violence in the big union state. "I am adamantly opposed to this," Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, told the Free Press. "I think it's a disaster for the state. I think it's shortsighted and vindictive. The state is going to be in a civil war for the next year." State workers in Lansing, especially those working for Republicans were advised by email to not walk the street or to their cars alone.

Snyder, a former venture capitalist who rode to the Governor's mansion in 2010 in the Tea-Party wave, suffered an embarrassing defeat at the polls last month when Michiganders over-turned his "emergency manager" law (which allows for municipal union contracts to be broken when a city faces financial calamity) by referendum.

Ford Motor Co. chairman Bill Ford was outspoken in his support of Snyder in 2010, unusual for Ford. It's a move that could come back to haunt the auto industry scion who has always had a good relationship with the unions.

Snyder claims he is moving fast against the unions because neighboring Indiana passed a similar law and he fears losing jobs to the Hoosier state.

If Snyder follows through signing the law, the 2014 Gubernatorial campaign, and the elections for state and assembly positions could become a bloodbath, with unions spending enormous sums on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts to defeat Republicans. A Democratic Governor and legislature would surely move to repeal the law.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      "Obama praised union workers for helping save the auto industry. And he said right to work laws won't help the middle class." Um, the usually overinflated union wages have contributed to the fall of the US auto industry. And reasonable wage rates lead to the ability to add employees, meaning much needed jobs!! I worked for 23 years in a non-unon shop and we had better than economy-proportional wages and benefits, as well as perks union shops only WSH they had! When business was good [as it usually was], we all shared the good, and when not [which was rare until the collapse of '08] we ALL shared the burden. THAT'S what makes a business work!
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ahhh the good old unions. I winder how the 18,000 put out of work by the Teamsters would vote? now we all have to go without wonder bread and twinkies.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Obama calls Right to Work Law as being about politics? Then what would you call his interference?
      • 2 Years Ago
      It is about time. One should have the right to join if they want but not to join if they do not choose.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Right to work is pro-worker.
      • 2 Years Ago
      That's your fantastic Repukelicans at work again. All they're really good for is taking things away from people, as long as it benefits them. Let them keep it up and one of these days they will cease to exist, What goes around comes around!!
      • 2 Years Ago
      All about money. Democrats like unions because they provide a steady stream of money deducted directly from workers paychecks. Republicans don't like unions because all of the money goes to Dems. Do you want to contribute $30 every two weeks to a political candidate, even if you agree with that candidate? Perhaps not, but if you're in a union, it's automatic. The real crime is deducting that money from people who don't even agree with the candidates to whom their money is going. Imagine: giving someone the freedom to work somewhere and not join a union is being billed as taking away their rights. Oh, the spin! The union's argument is "Don't let them choose to not join us--they're better off with us and they don't even know it! They're too dumb to decide for themselves!"
      • 2 Years Ago
      Obama does not like freedom of choice very much does he?
      • 2 Years Ago
      If the UAW will repay me the money they stole from me in Michigan (plus all the compounded accued interest over the years/decades) while I was trying to earn money to pay for my college education --- I will support their side of this issue. If not, then I support the Michigan's governor for passing a right-to-work legislation for the State of Michigan.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Most all of the new auto plants built in the last 20 years, have been in Southern right to work states. Labor there, has also chosen repeatedly not to go UAW. Labor is treated decently by the auto makers and see no need for the Union.. With more reasonable costs for labor, and attractive tax incentives, manufacturers have chosen to expand outside of Michigan, and its crumbling infrastructure. Maybe its time to get more competitive and have an argument to bring jobs back. Or, the state can keep doing things the same way, Think about it, Michigonians...your state is in terrible shape.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Sign it Snyder! Unions only protect the inept!
      • 2 Years Ago
      Before there were unions, there were Lords and Serfs. The point being: There were MANY more Serfs than Lords. So, go ahead stupid people; vote and demonstrate your way back to serfdom. After all, that is what "Trickle Down" economy is all about. Take a good look at the British Empire and see how far the wealth trickled down. While your at it, check out the voting status of serfs.
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