(Editor’s note: In the 1960s, Levin literally “wrote the book” to help assemble for Michigan the first state public employment labor relations bill in the nation as a member of the Senate Labor Committee. He was part of a delegation of Democratic congressmen from Michigan who urged Gov. Snyder last week to veto the state right-to-work legislation).
After two years of calling so-called right-to-work legislation “divisive” and claiming it was “not on his agenda,” Gov. Rick Snyder discussed with the Democratic congressional delegation on Monday the legislation that he now supports. He said he wants “to get it behind us.”
His dramatic reversal will do just the opposite.
Our conversation was intense as we each shared with the governor our experiences with the labor-management fabric of our state, and expressed our deep concern that he was unleashing a maelstrom that could harm the middle class and all of our efforts to dig out of the recession and revitalize Michigan’s economy.
Very concerning to me as he stands poised to take our state over this cliff was the fact that the governor seemed to have no real feel for current labor-management issues and appeared uninformed about current labor law and the impact of so-called right-to-work legislation.
The governor has said that under current law Michigan workers “have to join a union and pay dues” and that if they choose not to they “can lose their jobs.” In fact, for many decades federal and state laws have made it clear that no one is required to join a union or to pay dues. And no one can lose his or her job for refusing to do so. Workers pay dues if they join the union, but if they choose not to, the most that can be required of them — if it is negotiated into the contract by labor and management — is that they pay an “agency fee” for their share of administering the contract.
What the governor is unleashing is a right to freeload, which will reduce resources for representation, increase tensions among employees, and sow ill will between unions and employers just when we need cooperation to grow the economy for the benefit of all.
Unless the governor stands up to the special interests that persuaded him to make a 180-degree turn on this issue so fundamental to the history and fabric of our state and the development of a middle class, he will engender a Michigan divided.
He said he would consider our concerns. I hope so. I also hope he will remember two of his predecessors that I worked with on these issues: Gov. George Romney, who signed the original Public Employee Relations Act into law in 1965, and Gov. Bill Milliken, who worked hard to support those laws, increase the minimum wage and move our state forward.