The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 20, 2011

Michigan GOP ready to move on labor issues

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING – With the revenue side of the state’s budget resolved after having the process occupying much of their time over the last two months, Michigan’s Republican legislators are ready to resume their anti-labor mischief.

The number of anti-worker, anti-union bills introduced this year by Republican lawmakers exceeds 40, according to the Michigan AFL-CIO. We reported in our last issue that a bill to outlaw project labor agreements on state funded construction projects is not far from passage, and another one to overturn the state Prevailing Wage Act likely isn’t far behind.

Now we learn that the “nuclear option,” as organized labor leaders in Michigan have called it, is going to get a push – although it likely won’t get far – in the form of the promotion of a right-to-work bill.

MIRS News Service in Lansing reported on May 4 that former Republican lawmaker Jack Hoogendyk of the “Center Right Coalition of Michigan” has sent out an e-mail seeking to garner support for a right-to-work bill in our state. It was sent at a time when Republican lawmakers in New Hampshire were regrouping to gain enough votes to overcome their Democratic governor’s veto to make the Granite State the nation’s 23rd right- to-work state.

“A movement is afoot, led by common-sense grassroots activists, to put a Right to Work bill before the legislature,” Hoogendyk wrote, according to MIRS. “There are several dedicated lawmakers willing to stand up and support such a bill. But there is a question whether there are at least 56 members in the House and 20 in the Senate, (the minimum needed) to get the bill passed.”

Hoogendyk continued: “A carefully devised strategy is being developed that will include the need to show as much grass roots support for Right to Work in Michigan as possible. This letter is a call to leaders of every Tea Party, 912, anti-tax, limited-government, pro-liberty organization in the state.”

Two bills have been introduced in the state Senate that would allow the creation of right-to-work “zones” in Michigan, Senate Bill-0120 and Senate Bill 0116. Both are similar to, and align with, House Bill 4054.

The RTW zone concept, which allows local cities and counties to adopt their own right-to-work law, is seen as a way for Republican lawmakers to avoid the even greater rancor that would be expected from a full-blown, statewide right-to-work law. However, there are roadblocks for the legislation: Gov. Rick Snyder has said he wouldn’t pursue passage of “divisive” issues like right-to-work, and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville doesn’t seem inclined to further the legislation, either.

“I think passing a right-to-work bill in Michigan is going to be an uphill battle,” said Michigan Laborers Legislative Director Jonathon Byrd. “Right-to-work is seen as extreme, and Republicans in the state legislature are not as extreme as Hoogendyk.

While it remains to be seen how far right-to-work legislation will move in Michigan, two anti-worker whoppers have already been adopted. One law makes Michigan the first in the nation to permanently reduce the state’s unemployment benefit week level from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. The other allows financially failing school districts and municipalities to be placed under an emergency financial manager appointed by the governor, who is basically a dictator able to abrogate union contracts and hire and fire workers at will.

And Byrd said while the legislation to outlaw project labor agreements and anti-prevailing wage legislation is still in the hopper, the building trades’ next likely battle will be to help garner support for construction of the second Detroit River bridge.

A new bridge would create thousands of building trades jobs in the U.S. and Canada. The level of support for the new bridge in the state House and Senate remains unclear – deep-pocketed Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Maroun wants to build his own bridge, and he’s a major political contributor.

“I think it’s the next big fight for the building trades,” Byrd said. “It has fast legs, and the governor is pushing it.”