The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, December 07, 2012

RTW: ‘it will unleash as rancorous a legislative battle as the Capitol has seen in modern times’

By The Building Tradesman

If and when a right-to-work law is adopted in Michigan, it will be the result of classic backroom politics, with only Republican lawmakers in the room.

Republicans control the governor’s office, and have majorities in the state House and Senate. Last week, little was said publicly by GOP lawmakers about right-to-work, and Republican Senators held a retreat on Nov. 28, likely an  attempt to get on the same page concerning RTW and other matters. Surely they were thinking of the can of worms they could be opening if RTW is adopted.

“Sources said that during the Senate Republican retreat, Sen. Tory Rocca (R-Sterling Heights) told members to brace for the worst experience of their lives short of death if the Legislature pursues right-to-work,” reported Gongwer News Service on Nov. 28. “Senators were told to be prepared for widespread recall campaigns, in-your-face protests and harassment, and an all-out effort in 2014 to unseat them.”

Gov. Snyder has continued to say that RTW “isn’t on my agenda,” but has never claimed that he would veto a right-to-work bill, either. Much of the pro-RTW steam is coming from the state House. The Senate has more moderate Republicans lawmakers, but it’s a stretch to say that there’s enough “no” votes to prevent RTW.

With this being such a toxic subject, there has been a dearth of public comments about RTW from the Republican side since the election, but a few nuggets have emerged.  Following is a compilation of what’s been said and written in the state about right-to-work:

  • After no action was taken on RTW on Nov. 29, Gov. Snyder’s spokeswoman Sarah Wurfel “said that it was time to remain calm and not be firing back and forth, and that it was time for good discussions between Republicans and Democrats and between labor and business.” She said “nothing would happen in the next few days.” – The Detroit Free Press, Nov. 28
  • More ominously: “A final decision has not yet been made, but all signs point to the Republican majorities in the House and Senate moving on right-to-work legislation before the end of the year that would bar mandatory union membership or dues for workers covered by collective bargaining agreements.” – Gongwer News Service, Nov. 28.
  • Could there be a RTW exemption for Michigan’s building trades union in the works? “What is unclear at this point is the form the legislation would take. Several sources said those workers covered under PA 312 – namely police officers and fire fighters – would be exempt and still compelled to join their union or pay dues.

“But other carve-outs are under discussion. Possibly construction unions could be exempted. There is a thought to exempt all private-sector workers, however, one Republican source pointed out that such a strategy would undercut the economic argument for the bill because other states would have right-to-work for their private sector employees and Michigan would not.

“What is clear is that when Republicans officially decide to pursue such a bill, it will unleash as rancorous a legislative battle as the Capitol has seen in modern times. The protests of the emergency manager law in early 2011 will likely pale in comparison.” – Gongwer, Nov. 28.

  • Another perspective on not adopting full-blown right-to-work: ”Senators also had different ideas about what form RTW should take – like some backing it for government workers only, some wanting it for private only, some wanting both sectors with no exceptions and some wanting carve-outs for police and fire under different iterations.

“Sources told MIRS that Bolger wants Right to Work for all workers with no exceptions. As a result of the varying ideas in the Senate GOP caucus, sources said no whip count was done.” MIRS News Service, Nov. 28.

  • House Minority Leader Richard Hammel (D-Mt. Morris Twp.) vowed that if a RTW law is adopted, House Democrats would not support any legislation proposed by state Republicans, who may need some Dem votes next year. “(Hammel) dug in his heels by vowing not to give the GOP any Democratic votes for any pieces of legislation that would require bipartisan support to pass. This includes bills for a regional transit authority, a health care exchange, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan reform and a Detroit lighting authority.” – MIRS News Service, Nov. 28.
  • “Michigan’s GOP legislators finished a two-day caucus mid-week with designs of taking up right-to-work legislation in the remaining lame-duck session.

“They must resist the temptation. This is a divisive issue that has the potential to sideline most other legislative priorities lawmakers hope to pursue, such as restructuring Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, reforming the personal property tax or education reforms.

“While some would argue convincingly that none of those issues should be raced through the lame-duck session either, the fact remains that a bitter confrontation about right to work will detract from more pressing priorities and has the potential to bring a large measure of negative publicity to a state that is still fragile in its economic recovery.” – Lansing State Journal, Nov. 29 editorial.

*Having suffered a resounding defeat at the polls earlier this month, labor is still licking its wounds while at the same time putting its wagons in a circle hoping to fend off any GOP attempts at ‘tearing down workers.’ Revenge is in the air as legislative Republicans return to the capitol and union leaders expect a push for Right to Work legislation.”– Tim Skubick, political columnist, Nov. 29.