Right to Work Looms in Michigan

Michigan unionists packed the rotunda of the state Capitol in Lansing yesterday but the House passed a right to work bill. Protests are planned there for Tuesday. Photo: AFT Michigan.

Michigan unionists rallied and lobbied in the state capital yesterday to prevent right-to-work legislation. A bill has passed the House and Senate, and fear is that the governor will sign the bill during the lame-duck session. Republicans will lose five seats once the new legislature is seated in January, making defeat of right to work much more likely then.

Capitol police evicted some protesters yesterday, with arrests and Mace, and closed the building.

Here a member of one Michigan union explains how a state that was considered a union bastion came to this point.

Earlier this year I stood on a street corner, holding a clipboard for Proposal 2 and hoping that Michigan would be a trailblazer: the first state to make union rights constitutional rights. Today, I’m filling my tank for the drive to the state Capitol in Lansing, with the apprehension that Michigan will become the 24th state to end unionization as we know it.

The Republican-dominated legislature is poised to adopt “right-to-work” legislation. Yesterday hundreds of workers convened in the Capitol rotunda, chanting “hey hey, ho ho, right to work has got to go.” How did we get here?

Perhaps it began one state over, in Wisconsin. Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder learned from the mistakes of his neighbor across the lake, Scott Walker. When Walker attacked unions in Wisconsin with a bludgeon, provoking intense opposition last year, Snyder was watching. He saw the powerful reaction of union-loyal Midwesterners faced with a clear threat.

So instead, Snyder and his allies in the legislature pursued a strategy of a thousand cuts. Instead of introducing a bill that would affect all unions, the Michigan legislators did it piecemeal: taking away teachers’ automatic dues deductions, defining university research assistants as non-workers, and other measures that wouldn’t rile everyone at once.

Michigan labor went on offense, to pass a constitutional amendment that would have nullified all those laws-of-a-thousand-cuts and insulated us against new legislative threats, including “right to work.” We collected thousands of signatures for Proposal 2, made thousands of phone calls, and knocked on thousands of doors. In the week before the election we were neck and neck in the polls. And then Proposal 2 was defeated—57 to 42 percent.

There are many theories why we lost Proposal 2. Perhaps there were too many proposals on the ballot, perhaps it was the misleading ads financed by corporate interests, maybe we weren’t explicit enough about the threats to labor and the protections enshrined in the proposal.

Regardless, one month later, Governor Snyder, who previously had called right to work “divisive” and said it wasn’t a priority, now says he’ll sign this legislation if it crosses his desk during the lame duck session. The Chamber of Commerce is pushing it. Right-wing activist Dick DeVos of the Amway fortune started airing statewide TV ads Tuesday. The Republicans control both houses of the legislature and have the votes.

So where does this leave us? What’s on the table is the disappearance of union jobs from Michigan and the standard of living they have given workers, union and non-union alike. Last year Michigan was the state with the fifth highest percentage of unionized workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Back from Lansing, Liz DeLisle Rodrigues, communications chair of the Graduate Employees Organization, Teachers Local 3550, reported on the broad spectrum of workers who were there—teachers, electricians, construction workers, service workers, nurses, and more. Rodrigues observed simply: “Working people are getting the word out and banding together to fight.”

See you at the Capitol.

Alix Gould-Werth is a member of the Graduate Employees Organization, Teachers Local 3550, at the University of Michigan.

A version of this article appeared in . Don't miss an issue, subscribe today.


johnmehring | 12/09/12

Unlike Wisconsin, Michigan has initiative and referendum. Labor can go directly to the people on this one, again, and can follow the Ohio playbook. (Can anyone tell us why Wisconsin does not have initiative and referendum?)

NancyEJ | 12/07/12

And the problem is no one still pulling a six-figure paycheck from union will ever admit they did this to themselves.
No accountability to the membership. Bullsh!t third-world election standards. Union busting their own staff. (ahem) Holding themselves to a different abysmal employee relations standard than they do employers (I'm looking at you, Hecker) Disenfranchising everyone but the toadies, advancing staff based on their ability to bootlick alone, allowing total nightmare locals like 24 to continue to quite literally destroy members' lives. Incompetence, hypocrisy from here to Hell and back and just plain unvarnished stupid.

If any of these union "leaders" had had the common sense to spend the dues on SERVICING THEIR MEMBERS and not refurbishing their offices or employing their idiot relatives (and comely significant others) their unions wouldn't have to worry about Right to Work because their members would WILLINGLY PAY THE GD DUES. This actually does take place in Right to Work states -- in the few unions that actually TAKE CARE OF THEIR MEMBERS.

Here's a thought -- has anyone ever seen a group of union "leaders" actually sit down at the end of the year and ask themselves if the dues were too high? If the members should get a dues REFUND instead of a new SUV for the local president? OR, I dunno, copies of the CBA for everyone it covers instead of that penthouse suite?

and then, somehow, someone, somewhere decided to put Bob King in charge. Ho ly cow. Has Bob King done a single GD thing RIGHT since he was anointed? You can't just keep walking around in circles, chanting empty folk song lyrics, and shaking your little fist at stuff and expect the membership and the rest of the intelligent life on the planet to just buy in to your 1960s "vision". And the rest of you can't just keep whining about all unions supposedly accomplished a HALF A CENTURY ago either. "The dinosaurs who brought you the weekend." Cripes. It's pathetic.

What goes around comes around. You mismanage something as badly as this cast of assclowns has managed the labor movement in Michigan and yeah, it's not going to end well. You all tolerated this leadership and did their bidding, you turned a blind eye when they wiped their fannies with the NLRA and slept like babies every night after you saw them treat the rank and file like dues cows, annoyances, parade props and tee shirt hangers.

Good luck finding work, kids.