The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, December 21, 2012

A bare-knuckle blast from One Brutal Nerd

By The Building Tradesman

He’s the definition of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder came onto the scene in Michigan two years ago, portraying himself as a moderate who was willing to listen to both sides of an argument and make decisions based on what would be best for the state, rather than what’s best for his party or the GOP’s rich benefactors.

With no political experience and an approachable demeanor, the new governor seemed like he might be a Bill Milliken moderate – the kind of Republican organized labor could live with, work with, and get things done with. Two years later, incredibly, Snyder has placed himself to the right of even John Engler. And we in organized labor are left to ask, what the hell is he thinking?

Snyder’s push for a right-to-work law in Michigan amounts to not only a breathtaking overreach, but a political shotgun blast at organized labor. And what did labor do to deserve it? Snyder talked about the competitive benefits of following Indiana’s lead down the right-to-work hole, but there’s little doubt that it was retribution for Proposal 2, which failed at the ballot box on Nov. 6. Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment, would have prevented him and the Republican Legislature from adopting a right-to-work law.

So, the One Tough Nerd got tough – no, brutal – with the state’s unions. The apparent Republican logic is that since union members had the audacity to try and save ourselves from a right-to-work law by attempting to pass Proposal 2, Snyder and Co. would punish us for our all-too-accurate survival instincts… by going ahead and passing a right-to-work law.

Two years ago, we knew what we had in the Republican-dominated state Legislature. They would be led around by the nose by the most radical right among them, those supported by the Tea Party and by big money donors like the Devos family and Koch Brothers.  Labor has been in trouble with the Legislature since then – with nearly 100 anti-labor laws proposed or adopted – and we’re going to be in trouble with them for the next two years.

But we knew what we were getting. The expectations for The Nerd were a little higher. On March 1, 2011, Snyder was invited to speak to delegates at the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council’s Legislative Conference. He pledged that the state would not become another Wisconsin, where labor strife brought on by anti-labor Gov. Scott Walker roiled that state for months. “It’s about having open dialogue,” Snyder said at the time. “ And it’s about solving problems, not creating problems. Because you hired me to reinvent Michigan. To be a leader in that process. It’s not just about me, it’s about we. And that’s where as Michiganders, we need to look beyond the problems of other places in the country and say we’re in this together.”

Knowing now what he said then, I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

Snyder’s decision to sign the RTW bill demolished all hope and expectation that he would work with labor, although it was a continuation of his refusal to veto any of the hard-right, anti-labor bills that have gone through the legislature the past two years. His decision to sign brought 10,500 angry union members to his doorstep in Lansing on Dec. 11, and unleashed an unprecedented resolve by organized labor in taking the RTW option. Needless to say, he has lost any remaining good will with labor and Democrats. He isn’t through with half of his term and has already earned himself a place in Michigan’s history as the state’s most radical governor in the last 100 years.

House of Representative member Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) called out Snyder out for the governor’s line about the (abbreviated) “thoughtful discussion” that took place before the vote on right-to-work, the most important piece of legislation in Michigan in decades. The “discussion,” Greimel pointed out, lasted less than 48 hours, starting the evening of Dec. 4 when the governor said it was on his agenda, and ending the morning of Dec. 6, when the governor called for passage of RTW. Later that day, the House passed one of the right-to-work bills within 90 minutes.

Snyder is supposed to be a numbers guy, a businessman who looks at the bottom line. But in states that have right-to-work laws, numbers that show that any improvement in their ability to win jobs over non-RTW states is ambiguous, at best. But what’s not ambiguous is that workers in RTW states earn less, have more poverty, and less access to health care. We’re apparently trying to emulate RTW states like Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama, folks.

This wasn’t a numbers decision. It was a political decision aimed at decimating union numbers, coffers and political influence.

Passage of a right-to-work law in Michigan, is indeed a “game-changer,” as several GOP lawmakers have pointed out. RTW is not “union-friendly” as the governor ridiculously claims, but is intended to weaken union political muscle, while at the same time dragging down wages and benefits and acting as an anchor on our race to the bottom.

The lies, bare-knuckle politics, stealth voting by the Legislature and signature on the RTW bill by the governor was a sickening process to watch. Michigan is a right-to-work state, and frankly, there are now few limits to how unions can respond – what more can they do to us? This state is going to roil in the next two years, and it was all so unnecessary. As the old saying goes, if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.