The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 15, 2011

‘A right-to-work law for Michigan would be incredibly stupid.’ New effort makes push for passage

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor



LANSING – It’s been a tough year for organized labor in Michigan. It’s probably about to get tougher.

Michigan’s Republican lawmakers, with more time on their hands now that the state budget has been adopted, are turning their attention to the 40-plus anti-labor, anti-worker bills that were placed in the legislative hopper earlier this year.

One group is hoping right-to-work will be moved to the top of the agenda. On June 30, the “Michigan Freedom to Work” rolled out its campaign to get a right-to-work law approved in our state. Press conferences were held that day in Detroit, Escanaba, Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Traverse City. The group says it’s “a grassroots effort to bring liberty back to the workplace.” It’s unclear who’s funding them, and how much funding they’re getting.

But it’s sure to take away time and resources from organized labor in Michigan, which considers right-to-work a nuclear option by the Right.

“It’s a misguided effort, of course,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney. “It’s well documented that workers in right-to-work states earn about $5,000 a year less than in other states. Now let’s do the math. If we have half a million union workers in Michigan, and they have $5,000 less to spend, that’s $2.5 billion less that’s available for the state’s economy. Where does that get us? A right-to-work law for Michigan would be incredibly stupid.”

Michigan House Bill 4054 and Senate Bills 0120 and 0116 would allow local units of government to adopt right-to-work zones in cities, counties and school districts. So far, the bills have remained in committee.

Less than a statewide right-to-work bill, RTW zones would allow state lawmakers to create political cover for themselves by claiming they don’t support right-to-work, while giving local communities the mechanism to adopt such laws. However, the Michigan Freedom to work people seemed to be pushing a full statewide RTW law.

According to Gongwer News Service, many of the supporters of the right-to-work bill claim to be union members. In Lansing, Gongwer said “while union workers held a press conference calling for a right-to-work law, dozens of union members stood outside the room in protest of the effort. In fact, the union members protesting the effort threw off some of the logistics of where the press conference was to be held.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has said he has no interest in pursuing an agenda which includes right-to-work, citing the divisive nature of the legislation. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t sign a RTW bill. And Republicans in the Senate enjoy a veto-proof majority, anyway.

Responding to the right-to-work press conferences, Michigan Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer pointed out that Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) has similarly indicated that he doesn’t support RTW for Michigan.

“Opposing right-to-work legislation is one thing Sen. Richardville and I have always agreed upon,” said Whitmer. “I’m calling on him to stand with me in denouncing these anti-worker efforts and give Michigan’s working families the peace of mind that this terrible policy is dead on arrival.”

Whitmer said Richardville repeatedly responded to candidate questionnaires last year by stating, “I oppose efforts to make Michigan a Right to Work state.” Whitmer stated that she was expecting him to keep his word.

The Senate Democrats also launched a petition drive June 30 in support of SJR I, a resolution that would constitutionally protect the rights of Michigan’s workers to collectively bargain for their wages and benefits.

The democrats’ petition is available at: http://senate.mi.gov/dem/workingfamilies/

Right-to-work laws currently exist in 22 states. They enable workers at union companies to forgo paying union dues if they object. These workers, however, still enjoy the same benefits and protections that dues-paying union members receive.

Numerous studies have shown a lower standard of living for workers in RTW states. The AFL-CIO points out that 21 percent more people lack health insurance in right to work states compared to free-bargaining states. Right to work states have a poverty rate of 12.5 percent, compared with 10.2 percent in other states. And a University of Michigan study released in April found that construction industry fatalities are 40 percent higher in RTW states.

“We’re working hard on this bill and others that are an assault on working people – both in Republican districts and here in Lansing – to counter what they’re doing,” Gaffney said. “But ultimately this is going to lead us to getting things turned around on Election Day in 2012.”