LANSING – Organized labor in Michigan is hardly alone when it comes to fighting anti-labor legislation. The results of November elections in neighboring Wisconsin and Ohio have also fed the feeding frenzy of anti-union sentiment among ultra-conservative Republican lawmakers.
So far, the only difference among the three states is that in Michigan, we’re not sure how much Gov. Rick Snyder is going to go along with the strong anti-union, anti-worker sentiments in both houses of the state Legislature. But the new Republican governors in Ohio and Wisconsin have already made it clear where they stand: they’re joining with their new Republican-dominated state Legislatures to push for a whole list of anti-labor legislation, including right-to-work laws.
“There is an anti-labor trend among states in this region, but we’re seeing the same thing in 12 states around the country,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney. “It’s a planned, coordinated effort by the right wing and their wealthy benefactors to change the political balance in this country. And what they have planned, and we’re seeing it already, is an assault on working families.”
Gaffney said the anti-labor rage is fueled by the Tea Party-driven ideology and their big-money sponsors. They started with the public relations assault on public sector employees, claiming their pay and benefits are too expensive. Now they have moved on to other anti-worker measures, claiming that anything that stands in the way of businesses earning a profit, like ergonomic regulations or prevailing wage or maintaining a state health and safety program like MIOSHA – should be banned.
In January, newly elected Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich said that if employees strike, “they should be fired.” Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a likely Republican candidate for President next year, wrote in an op-ed that the moral case for unions “does not apply to public employment.” Indiana, Idaho, and Tennessee all have legislation in the works to strip teachers’ ability to collectively bargain.
But what’s happening in Wisconsin is the tip of the spear in anti-union actions among the states. New Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a “budget repair bill” that would severely limit collective bargaining among state employees, as well as eliminate the right of unions to collectively bargain pensions, retirement and benefits. Tens of thousands of state employees and their supporters fill the state capitol building in Madison last week, and Democratic lawmakers refused to attend legislative sessions in the state Senate to avoid providing Republicans with a quorum and proceed with a vote.
Walker was asked by a reporter what would happen if workers resist limits on collective bargaining. Walker replied that he would call out the National Guard. He said that the National Guard is “prepared…for whatever the governor, their commander-in-chief, might call for. … I am fully prepared for whatever may happen.” It’s the first time in recent memory that a public official threatened to use the National Guard to quell political dissent.
“Maybe the new governor doesn’t understand yet – but the National Guard is not his own personal intimidation force to be mobilized to quash political dissent,” said Robin Eckstein, a former Wisconsin National Guard member, Iraq War Veteran from Appleton, Wis., and a VoteVets.org member. “The Guard is to be used in case of true emergencies and disasters, to help the people of Wisconsin, not to bully political opponents. Considering many veterans and Guard members are union members, it’s even more inappropriate to use the Guard in this way. This is a very dangerous line the governor is about to cross.”
We should know in a few weeks how much of a line Gov. Snyder will cross, and whether he will be willing to veto some or all of the anti-worker legislation that’s sure to cross his desk.
Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin, who has met privately with Snyder, said it’s still not clear what direction the new governor will take for our state, although he has been cordial to labor unions on both public and private levels. “Certainly there’s a big faction of Republicans in Michigan that are hell-bent on being anti-labor,” Devlin said. “And Governor Snyder said he’s not into all the divisiveness, that’s it’s not helpful and it’s not the direction he wants to take. But when the bills start coming to his desk, we’ll see.”