The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 25, 2011

Republican volley aimed at Michigan’s unions: Appeal to moderate GOPers only hope in ‘massive assault’ on workers

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – Busy, busy, busy.
The state’s Republicans have been very active in their first few weeks of office – and if it’s not clear by now that putting an end to the viability of unions in Michigan is atop their agenda, it should be.

The Michigan AFL-CIO Legislative Report counts no less than 33 anti-labor bills that have been brought up in both the state House or Senate since the beginning of the legislative term last month.

“The state Republicans are being very smart about this, they’re attacking unions and workers on different levels,” said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council President Zane Walker. “By that I mean they’re going after things like getting rid of ergonomic rules, which isn’t a building trades issue but is an important health issue to the UAW. And they want to get rid of prevailing wage, which isn’t necessarily a concern of any other union, but is very important to the building trades. So we have to split up our efforts to combat this stuff, and that makes it tougher.”

In the aftermath of last November ’s election, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder replaced Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who from Day One in office promised – and delivered – to be a “backstop” and kill any bills that would be detrimental to organized labor in Michigan. Snyder is a moderate Republican, but no one knows yet what that means, specifically, when it comes to giving the thumbs up or down to this anti-labor legislation being brought up by his GOP cohorts.

“First this year they came after the public sector workers, then it was right-to-work, then it was ergonomics, then it was MIOSHA, now it’s prevailing wage,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney. “It’s a massive assault on workers. And it shows there’s a cavernous difference between the hard-right, ideologically driven members of the Republican Party vs. the mainstream progressives in the Democratic Party. I think middle American believes that there is a prominent a role for organized labor in this country, but the legislators on the far right, who are driven by ideology and big money, don’t think so.”

When we spoke him last week, Gaffney said Republicans were averaging one anti-labor bill per day since they took control in Lansing. What is that anti-labor legislation, specifically? A few include:

*House Bill 4054, which would allow local units of government to institute “right to work zones” in any area of Michigan. Such a bill would take the right-to-work monkey off the backs of state lawmakers, and allow local governments to make their city or county right-to-work. With passage of the bill, Republican lawmakers could then claim, “hey we didn’t pass right to work, we just made it possible for cities or counties to pass it.”

*Senate Bill 0095, would repeal prevailing wages on state-funded construction projects. Passage would open bidding on projects involving state universities, offices and road projects to bidders who can pay their workers whatever they want, opening the door to labor from out-of-state, and likely, workers from out-of-the-country.

*Senate Bill 0014, which would repeal the Michigan Health and Safety Act. Michigan’s health and safety laws would then fall under less-stringent federal OSHA rules. In our last issue, we detailed how worker deaths and injures have fallen steadily over the past few years in Michigan, led by a MIOSHA proactively pushing safety solutions with employers.

*House Bill 4152, for public workers, freeze wages, no steps (increases); and passing all health care costs on to public workers.

*House Bill 4140, is a bill to create a health care plan for all public workers and eliminate collective bargaining for them.

House Bill 4059
, would prohibit paying union officers for conducting union business.

House Bill 4052, is the partner to HB 4059, and would outlaw the use of taxpayer funded equipment and facilities to be used for union or political activities.

“I can’t believe all the anti-labor stuff that’s come up, but in all fairness we’ve seen it before – the right-to-work, the anti-prevailing wage legislation,” Walker said. “The difference this time is that we don’t have an Andy Dillon as speaker of the House, who wouldn’t let it come up for a vote, and we don’t have a Granholm to veto it if it gets to her desk.”

Michigan’s voters placed Republicans in control of both the state House (which they took from Democrats), and continued control of the Michigan Senate – giving them unchecked power in state government to pass their agenda. Today, the only backstop left to organized labor is the hope that Gov. Snyder or enough moderate Republicans in the Senate can be
lobbied to not support the anti-labor bills.

New Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) told Booth Newspapers last month that “all options” would be looked at when it comes to right-to-work in the state. “Gone must be the days where things were taken off the table because they were uncomfortable to talk about,” he said, adding “we have to have that conversation about right-to-work, we have to explore the pros and cons, we have to put all things on the table that would make Michigan more competitive.”

Gaffney said job one for the AFL-CIO and all its union affiliates is to work with all moderate Republicans in order to make sure this legislation doesn’t reach Snyder’s desk. “We’re about to find out who we can work with,” he said.
Added Walker: “This stuff is going to pass the House. We’re hoping that we have enough friendlies in the Senate. But they’ve already had nine Senators sign on to the bill to dump prevailing wage. This is going to be a battle.”