The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 23, 2012

After Proposal 2 defeat, unions will get whacked; but who – and how hard?

By The Building Tradesman



LANSING – This probably isn’t going to be pretty.

The defeat at the polls of Proposal 2 – which would have made Michigan the first state to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution – has left organized labor leaders and various pundits and politicos wondering what state Republican lawmakers have in store for the state’s unions.

The likelihood is that the GOP will make Michigan the nation’s 24th right-to-work state, in some form, perhaps before the end of the year. If not a full right-to-work law, perhaps they will single out public employees for right-to-work, or create geographic right-to-work zones. Whatever the GOP comes up with, retribution is expected to be swift and sure to punish the Michigan labor movement’s attempt to use the ballot issue to sidestep and halt the myriad of anti-labor laws adopted the last two years by the state Republicans.

“Imagine if we had had a Democratic Legislature and governor and the business community had pushed similar but opposite ballot proposals. Do you think we’d all be holding hands and singing ‘Kumbayah?’ ” asked Richard Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. He was speaking to the MIRS News Service, asserting that elections have consequences.

Proposal 2 was defeated soundly at the polls, by a 58-42 percent margin. Both labor and Proposal 2’s enemies spent a total of perhaps up to $45 million on the ballot proposal, by far the most in the state’s history. Organized labor leaders pushed for the ballot proposal out of fear that right-to-work would come to the forefront of Republican legislators’ agenda no matter what, so Proposal 2, announced with the start of a petition drive last March, was a way to be proactive.

It failed, perhaps giving a perceived mandate to state Republicans, who have the luxury of pushing for right-to-work or any other additional anti-labor legislation this year or in the next two years, having recaptured majority control of the state House during the Nov. 6 election.

In the days following the election, speculation was heavy on the airwaves, on the Internet and in print about the direction GOP lawmakers will take. Following is a sampling:

  • State Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) is the leading proponent of right-to-work in the state Legislature. “The enthusiasm by business lobbying groups to make Michigan a RTW state has picked up since neighboring Indiana earlier this year became the first Great Lakes state to adopt the measure,” he told Mlive. “My top priority is to make Michigan the next labor freedom state.”

But Shirkey said he would only press the bill “when I know for certain that I have the support of the governor.”

  • Does he? During his nearly two years in office, Gov. Rick Snyder has repeatedly demurred when asked to state his position on a statewide right-to-work law. Such a law would allow workers in a bargaining group to refuse to pay union dues, but still enjoy the benefits of being in the union. Snyder has repeatedly said that RTW “is not on my agenda” or something similar. But he hasn’t said he would not sign such a bill.

“As I said, I thought Proposal 2 was a massive overreach in terms of our constitution,” Snyder told The Detroit News. “I still believe in collective barging.”

  • “Organized labor’s push to get Prop 2 on (Nov. 6’s) ballot violated an unofficial truce between Snyder, business groups and state Republicans on one side and organized labor on the other,” The Detroit News’ Daniel Howes wrote. “Sponsoring right-to-work legislation in response would be considered payback, inviting yet another referendum seeking to repeal the law.

“Michigan CEOs and Republican leaders in the Legislature face a choice: Do they regard the $30 million spent to defeat Prop 2 to be a down payment on a right-to-work crusade and press ahead now, as the West Michigan Policy Forum and some business leaders advocate?

“Or do they conclude that protracted public vitriol, potential hits to the GOP’s statewide appeal and risk to the governor’s moderate reform agenda – including a re-election bid two years from now – would consume valuable time and far more political capital than they would deliver?”

  • “The business community runs the same risk the unions did in over-reach,” says Sandy Baruah, president of the Detroit Regional Chamber, to Howes. “We could rapidly get ourself into a vicious cycle. That eye-for-an-eye stuff didn’t work out well in the past. And it’s a distraction.”
  • Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) told the MIRS News Service that he’s now weighing a version of right-to-work that’s just for government workers. He told MIRS on Nov. 7 that nothing is set, but that he, House Speaker Jase Bolger, (R-Marshall) and Gov. Snyder have been discussing for months a version of RTW for state, local and public school employees. It’s possible, Richardville said, that version of RTW could be taken up in the legislative lame duck session before the end of the year. “I think that’s on the table,” he told MIRS. “We need to seriously consider all options.”
  • Phil Power, the Center for Michigan: “Right to Work will be the 800-pound elephant in the room  for months. If the Legislature winds up passing RTW, Gov. Snyder will be in a box. He will be under tremendous pressure to sign the bill, but the cost – losing his distinctive and  important image as a relatively nonpartisan moderate – will be enormous. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see “Right to Work Lite” – affecting public employees only, for example – getting popular in some Lansing circles.”
  • Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Public Radio: “What nobody really knows is if the governor would sign a right to work bill if one lands on his desk – though most people think the answer would be a reluctant yes. I don’t know for sure, but I do know this: passing a right-to-work law could end up being a long-term disaster for the Republicans. It could give Democrats the needed rallying cry to punish them in the coming midterm elections.

“The fact that voters didn’t want to stick collective bargaining in the constitution doesn’t mean that they are solidly anti-union. The collective bargaining amendment vote was closer than the other constitutional amendments. There’s some indication that many confused voters just blindly voted against them all.

“The chances are that many of the same voters who are against unions having special constitutional rights would also be opposed to having the rights they now have taken away from them. The governor has a lot he wants and needs to get done quickly, from finding a replacement for the emergency manager law to his favorite cause, personal, meaning business, property tax reform.

“The last thing he needs is for a legislative jihad against Michigan’s unions to get in the way.”