Michigan’s right-to-work law didn’t just pop up out of the legislative swamp in last December ’s lame-duck legislative session.
Big political money, from inside and outside of Michigan, started to flow into Michigan in 2010 – after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and in the year the Gov. Rick Snyder and a Republican majority took over in Michigan. The Citizens United decision, aka Corporations are People, opened the door for unlimited political contributions from companies and unions seeking to influence laws and sway lawmakers.
Of course, the big money donors wanted a payback for their investment, although Snyder did spend $6 million of his own money on his campaign. While about 100 pieces of anti-labor legislation have been introduced over the last two years in Lansing – many of them made into law – turning Michigan into a right-to-work state was the big prize. Gov. Snyder signed RTW into law on Dec. 11.
“In the end, Dick Devos (Amway Corp.) and the extreme right-wing control what’s going on in the state,” said UAW Bob King in a radio interview. “And the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity was in there, and there was a lot of money all pushing for the passage of this legislation, threatening the governor, threatening the different representatives. The stories we were told by Republicans, who I’m sure won’t admit to it publicly…was that they were threatened, that they would have a primary challenge from the Tea Party.”
According to the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network, “98 percent of contributions to the Republican Governors Association- Michigan 2010 Political Action committee “were attributed to persons who do not reside in Michigan.” That PAC raised $114 million that year.
The Campaign Finance Network reported that David Koch of Koch Industries (based in Kansas), a major contributor to conservative causes and candidates, gave a total of $988,604 to that Republican Governors PAC in 2010, the year Snyder was elected. Also in 2010, Richard and Helen Devos (Amway) gave $910,000 to the Michigan Republican Party and another $138,604 to the Republican Governors Association-Michigan 2010 PAC.
Americans for Prosperity (AFP), founded by the Koch Brothers, set up tents on the lawn of the state Capitol Building on the day RTW was signed into law in Michigan, to support the legislation. Radio and TV ads supporting right-to-work in Michigan aired that same day.
“If you do that, you’ve been planning it for a while,” said Gordon Lafer, a researcher with the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute, to Crooks and Liars.
Indeed, an extensive Salon.com article said right-to-work in Michigan “didn’t come out of nowhere.” In an Aug. 9 video shot by a Michigan Democratic tracker, former Michigan GOP chairman Ron Weiser is seen describing right-to-work plans that date back to 2007. He said the first Republican plans for RTW were to organize a petition drive. But that changed after a RTW strategy meeting described by Weiser that included former Michigan Gov. John Engler, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating (where right-to-work was adopted in 2001), billionaire donor Dick DeVos, and “some people from AFP.”
“What we determined,” Weiser said in the video, “was that to win that election, and to be sure we were gonna win it, we couldn’t have a governor that was against it (RTW). So we decided to wait. Wait until we had a governor. Now we have a legislature and we have a governor.”
With Michigan and Indiana adopting right-to-work laws last year, the trend may be the tip of the iceberg in states around the country. Lafer said right-to-work bills were introduced in about 20 states in 2011 and 2012. “This is part of a campaign to get rid of unions for both economic and political reasons,” he said.
In a 2011 speech recorded by ThinkProgress, AFP Michigan state director Scott Hagerstrom told the Conservative Political Action Conference, “We fight these battles on taxes and regulation, but really, what we would like to see is to take the unions out at the knees so they don’t have the resources to fight these battles.”