Organized labor in Michigan has received its share of body blows this year from state Republicans, who control all levers of power in state government.
Now comes word from Senate Majoritity Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) that he favors a right-to-work law for Michigan teachers. He made the bombshell revelation during a Sept. 9 taping of “Off the Record” with Tim Skubick.
Richardville and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder earlier this year both expressed a lack of interest in pursuing a broader right-to-work law for all of Michigan. Now, it appears that teachers, at least, will be the target for the anti-union legislation – dubbed “right-to-teach” – and that may just be the start.
As reported in Gongwer News Service, Richardville told reporters after taping the show: “There’s probably nobody in the Legislature, especially a Republican, that has stood up for workers’ rights and workers in general over the last decade (more) than me. I’ve come to a point where I’ve seen that I do not believe that the teachers union represents teachers well at all, nor does it represent the students. What they’ve been doing is working hard, twisting arms and putting us in places that we can’t afford to be.”
Gongwer reported that a reporter then told Richardville he had effectively declared war on Michigan’s teachers’ unions. Richardville reportedly only stared back at the reporter and said nothing.
Adopting a right-to-work bill against teachers or any other worker in Michigan is seen by the union movement as a declaration of war against workers’ rights. Right-to-work laws exist in 22 states, mostly in the South and West, and allow workers in collective bargaining groups to opt out of paying dues, but still enjoy the benefits of dues-paying members.
The effect of RTW laws is that they weaken unions, as well as unions’ ability to organize and stand up for workers’ rights. And workers in right-to-work states earn less, are less likely to have health insurance and have lower job safety standards.
Most of the ruling Republicans are far to the right of Richardville and Snyder, and organized labor in Michigan has been anticipating a nasty fight over an anticipated statewide RTW bill expected to be introduced this fall. But perhaps the Republican strategy will be along the lines of divide and conquering, picking on select groups (public workers were targeted for higher health care costs earlier this year) instead of everyone.
There’s plenty of speculation that Richardville’s new anti-union stance is in retaliation for the numerous recall efforts against Republican lawmakers spawned this year, in part by the Michigan Education Association, over the litany of anti-union bills introduced this year.
MEA President Steven Cook responded this way to Richardville’s volley:
“Sen. Richardville is seriously misguided in his proposal to attack school employees by introducing a bill that would apply so-called “Right to Work FOR LESS” rules to school employees only.
“Republican leaders have slashed school funding, increased taxes, stripped collective bargaining rights from teachers and other school employees, forced them to pay more out of pocket for retirement and health insurance and, in general, completely undermined and demoralized the educators of this state.
“For Sen. Richardville to say that school employees, unlike other unions, have not recognized the state’s tough economic times is ridiculous. Teachers and support staff have been laid off, taken wage and benefit cuts, and seen critical services for students in their districts disappear because of the Republican cut of more than $1 billion from public education.
“MEA members are fed up. That’s why thousands have been engaged, alongside thousands of other Michigan citizens, in recall efforts designed to stop these constant attacks on public education and the middle class.”
David Holtz, Executive Director of Progress Michigan, said: “Sen. Richardville was correct when he said he’s not taking up right-to- work legislation and he should apply that same standard and logic to teachers the same as other workers. Right-to-work is about politics, plain and simple. It’s the usual suspects making a power grab – extreme, anti-union politicians who are trying to cut benefits earned by hardworking teachers, nurses, firefighters, police officers and bridge inspectors.”