Michigan poised to become 24th right to work for less state

Thousands of workers wearing red will gather Tuesday in Lansing, Michigan’s state capital, to try to head off an attempt by Republican governor Rick Snyder and a lame duck legislature to make Michigan a right to work for less state.

On December 6, Gov. Snyder, state senate majority leader Randy Richardville, and house speaker Jase Bolger, all Republicans, announced that they intended to make Michigan the 24th right to work for less state in the US. Within hours of the announcement, the state senate and house had passed appropriations bills that included so called right to work legislation.

There were no committee hearings and no chance for the public to provide formal testimony about the consequences of enacting such legislation.

The bills that came out of the house and senate still need to be reconciled, and a vote on a reconciled version of the two bills will to take place on Tuesday. Gov. Snyder said that he will sign the final version of the bill.

Labor unions and Working Michigan, a progressive coalition of community, religious, and labor groups, hope that a massive turnout of union members and supporters on Tuesday will convince the legislature and Gov. Snyder to reconsider their decision.

Under the federal Taft Hartley law, state’s have the authority to enact legislation that has commonly come to be known as a right to work law. So-called right to work laws allow employees who enjoy the benefits of union contracts and services provided by dues paying members such as grievance representation to refuse to pay union dues.

The purpose of these laws is to make it more difficult for union workers to bargain collectively and enforce contracts that have been negotiated.

According to Working Michigan, workers in so-called right to work states earn about $1,500 less a year than comparable workers in states that do not have such laws.

The right to work for less vote was the second big setback this year for Michigan workers. Unions in Michigan tried to pass an amendment to the state constitution making collective bargaining a right guaranteed by the constitution. A referendum on the amendment held on Election Day was badly defeated.

Sensing a weakness after the referendum defeat, Republican’s moved swiftly to make Michigan a right to work state before the next session of the legislature convenes.

The Michigan Legislature that passed the two bills is composed of members who will not be returning when the next session of the legislature convenes in January. Some lost re-election bids; some are retiring.

As a result, Republicans will have a narrower majority, and it will be more difficult to pass laws that make it harder for workers to bargain collectively, which has been especially high on the Republican agenda since 2010.

Union leaders thought that Republicans might try to pass some kind of anti-worker legislation during the lame duck session and tried to mobilize members in advance. But the swiftness of the lawmakers’ actions on Thursday, seems to have caught the union leaders off guard.

Over the weekend, opponents of the proposed legislation regrouped and called for Tuesday’s mobilization.

Should the proposed legislation become law, it will be very difficult for unions to repeal it. Lawmakers included right to work language in appropriation acts, which are not subject to a referendum vote.

Making repeal even more problematic is the fact that a recent poll found that 54 percent of Michigan voters support right to work legislation.

The United Auto Workers called the legislation  a “devastating blow to the middle class in Michigan” designed “to flatten wages and crush workers rights.”

Working Michigan said that

In the wake of this legislation, the only ‘freedom’ gained for Michigan workers will be the freedom to make less, the freedom to be disrespected at work, the freedom to struggle to pay their bills, and the freedom to be left out of the American dream. This bill is a blatant attempt by the richest in Michigan to silence the voices of working families in our democracy, build their own power, and make the growing gap between the rich and everyone else even bigger.

The proposed law will not affect contracts that are already in place; however, as contracts in the public and private sector expire and new contracts are negotiated, they will reflect the change.

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