The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, January 28, 2011

Michigan Republicans waste no time introducing right-to-work

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor



The Republican-dominated Michigan Legislature couldn’t wait to get started bashing the state’s unions.

On Jan. 13, their first opportunity to introduce legislation this year, House Republicans sponsored resolutions that would allow the establishment of right-to-work “zones” in Michigan, as well as prevent the use of public funding for union facilities, equipment – or for a public employer to pay anyone who’s on union business.

Republican bills, which will first be placed into legislative committees, would also eliminate the business tax and raise taxes on the working class through the elimination of the earned income tax. One Senate bill would also eliminate MIOSHA.

“Draw your own conclusions,” said Todd Tennis of Capitol Services Inc., a Lansing lobbyist for the IBEW. “These first bills are consistent with what Republicans are all about. They want to attack unions, raise taxes on middle class individuals and lower taxes on business. If that isn’t class warfare, I don’t know what is.”

Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin said, “we warned our members last year before the election about right-to-work being at the top of the Republican agenda, so this should come as no surprise. Now comes the hard part – putting the pressure on Republicans, especially the moderates who might listen to us, to not vote for this junk.”

Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney called the GOP legislation “part of a nationwide right-wing assault against union members and their unions. It’s an effort to destroy unions’ ability to represent members, and is an assault on workers’ pay standards and benefits.”

With Republicans holding complete control over the levers of power in state government, they also have complete responsibility for dealing with Michigan’s latest budget shortfall, which amount to about $1.8 billion. Their governing philosophy on levying taxes to reduce that deficit will likely be less friendly to the middle class and more friendly to business – that has been consistent over the years.

But the more glaring issue that will emerge in the coming months will be whether state Republicans have the political will to go through with passage of a right-to-work law. In the states that have adopted them, right to work laws invariably lead to the decline of union influence, and the subsequent decline in workforce pay, benefits, and a host of other living standards for both union and nonunion workers. A right-to-work law allows individual members of a unionized workforce to enjoy the benefits of a union contract, without paying dues.

As suspected by organized labor leaders, Republicans are taking the strategically safer course of introducing the concept of right-to-work zones for Michigan. Such a law, if adopted, would allow lawmakers in governing bodies like cities, townships or counties to vote among themselves to allow a right-to-work law for their jurisdiction. Or, the language in the bill seems to allow localities could put a RTW law on the ballot to let local voters decide. The more universal alternative would be for state lawmakers to adopt a statewide RTW law.

“Politically, this is definitely the easier way of implementing right to work – without taking responsibility for doing it,” Tennis said. “Republicans in the House and Senate can say hey, ‘hey, we’re not doing it, we’re letting the cities and counties decide for themselves.’”

Tennis said with the Republican “misinformation machine” up and running, “I’m not so sure they couldn’t put a right to work law on the ballot and even win in Democratic areas,” he said. “They have the money.”

What, or who, would prevent passage of right-to-work legislation in Michigan?

New Governor Rick Snyder, for one. “Snyder has said he has no interest in right-to-work, and he didn’t say anything about it in his State of the State address,” Tennis said. “On the other hand, we’ve never heard him commit to vetoing a right-to-work law if it comes on his desk. Don’t forget, in most cases a bill can becomes a law in Michigan if a governor doesn’t sign it or veto it within two weeks. Snyder could refuse to sign a right-to-work bill, and it would become law.”

Another possibility is that right to work zones do not get enough Republican votes for passage in either the House or Senate. “There are still some Republicans who are very leery about right to work,” Tennis said. “They’re thinking, do we really want to wake the giant?”

“we warned our members last year before the election about right-to-work being at the top of the Republican agenda, so this should come as no surprise. Now comes the hard part – putting the pressure on Republicans, especially the moderates who might listen to us, to not vote for this junk.”

With Republicans holding complete control over the levers of power in state government, they also have complete responsibility for dealing with Michigan’s latest budget shortfall, which amount to about $1.8 billion. Their governing philosophy on levying taxes to reduce that deficit will likely be less friendly to the middle class and more friendly to business – that has been consistent over the years.

But the more glaring issue that will emerge in the coming months will be whether state Republicans have the political will to go through with passage of a right-to-work law. In the states that have adopted them, right to work laws invariably lead to the decline of union influence, and the subsequent decline in workforce pay, benefits, and a host of other living standards for both union and nonunion workers. A right-to-work law allows individual members of a unionized workforce to enjoy the benefits of a union contract, without paying dues.

As suspected by organized labor leaders, Republicans are taking the strategically safer course of introducing the concept of right-to-work zones for Michigan. Such a law, if adopted, would allow lawmakers in governing bodies like cities, townships or counties to vote among themselves to allow a right-to-work law for their jurisdiction. Or, the language in the bill seems to allow localities could put a RTW law on the ballot to let local voters decide. The more universal alternative would be for state lawmakers to adopt a statewide RTW law.

“Politically, this is definitely the easier way of implementing right to work – without taking responsibility for doing it,” Tennis said. “Republicans in the House and Senate can say hey, ‘hey, we’re not doing it, we’re letting the cities and counties decide for themselves.’”

Tennis said with the Republican “misinformation machine” up and running, “I’m not so sure they couldn’t put a right to work law on the ballot and even win in Democratic areas,” he said. “They have the money.”

What, or who, would prevent passage of right-to-work legislation in Michigan?

New Governor Rick Snyder, for one. “Snyder has said he has no interest in right-to-work, and he didn’t say anything about it in his State of the State address,” Tennis said. “On the other hand, we’ve never heard him commit to vetoing a right-to-work law if it comes on his desk. Don’t forget, in most cases a bill can becomes a law in Michigan if a governor doesn’t sign it or veto it within two weeks. Snyder could refuse to sign a right-to-work bill, and it would become law.”

Another possibility is that right to work zones do not get enough Republican votes for passage in either the House or Senate. “There are still some Republicans who are very leery about right to work,” Tennis said. “They’re thinking, do we really want to wake the giant?”