DETROIT – The attack on workers rights and democracy in Michigan is a warning for the nation.
In the 2010 mid-term elections in Michigan, voter turnout declined and Republicans captured a veto-proof majority in the state Senate and a large majority in the state House. In addition, Republicans won races for governor, secretary of state and attorney general, and a majority on the state Supreme Court.
They have unleashed a brutal attack. Almost 90 bills curtailing the rights of labor and many more attacking democratic rights have been introduced.
With the current extremist crowd running the Republican Party, give them control of all three branches of government and they will go hog wild. The lesson of Michigan is clear: the far-right cannot be given the power to govern on the state or national level.
The Republican overreach is activating labor and democratic forces here that are determined to retake the state legislature. But as the following examples show, the damage from the bills they have rammed through will have a deep impact.
Attack on the unemployed, poor, working people and seniors
With double-digit unemployment, losing more manufacturing jobs than any other state and new jobs almost non-existent, the state legislature passed a retroactive 48-month lifetime limit on welfare cash assistance. Almost 40,000 people, the majority children, have been cut off. In addition, unemployment benefits have been cut from 26 week to 20 weeks. Other legislation will cut the amount jobless workers are eligible to collect.
One of the first acts of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder was to lower the corporate tax rate by almost $2 billion. The loss in revenue was made up by taxing seniors’ pensions, slashing the earned income tax credit for low-income workers and cutting funding of public schools.
Suppression of the right to vote
While there is no evidence of voter fraud in Michigan elections, Senate Bill 754, part of an 11-bill legislative package unveiled by Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson called the “Secure and Fair Elections initiative,” places new hurdles on voting and voter registration campaigns. Individuals and organizations like the League of Women Voters, who have been registering voters for 90 years, would have to be trained and certified by the secretary of state before registering voters. Other provisions require completed registration forms to be submitted within 24 hours. Photo identification requirements for absentee ballots would make voting more difficult for seniors, the disabled and others.
From teachers to the police, public workers are under fire
Another bill, SB 636, prohibits public school systems from collecting union dues or service fees from wages of public school employees.
Legislation removing all caps and limits of all types on charter schools will open the floodgates for the privatization of education.
SB 729, a “right-to-work” (for less) bill for school workers, was introduced in October. Another bill, which calls for the forced privatization of non-instructional workers in public school districts, passed the House and is on its third reading in the Senate.
Already passed are bills requiring public employees to pay no less than 20% of their health care, a total that will run into thousands of dollars for these workers; one that prohibits paid time off for union officials for conducting union business; and another that adds new restrictions on police officer and fire fighter arbitration rights.
A bill that drastically undermines workers’ compensation benefits was just passed.
Other measures will do away with prevailing wage requirements and remove the current requirement of employers to notify striking unions when they are hiring replacement workers.
Workers’ safety at risk
While Michigan Republicans work to delay the creation of the health care exchanges required in the president’s Affordable Health Care Act, a bill passed the state House prohibiting the Michigan Occupational Health and Safety Administraton from developing rules more stringent than federal ones. An separate bill that prohibits creating ergonomic rules in the workplace has passed both houses.
And despite the dangers of mercury to public health, Republican Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette last month joined with 24 other state attorneys general in filing a lawsuit to scuttle new EPA regulations reducing mercury emissions from power plants.
Democracy under attack
Michigan’s “emergency manager” law has resulted in such managers appointed in Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac and Ecorse, all majority African American cities, and Detroit is now threatened. Emergency mangers can terminate collective bargaining agreements, remove elected officials from office and ban them from running for office for six years, dissolve political structures such as councils, commissions and school boards, and force consolidation of services in schools, townships, cities and counties.
Other legislation prevents public employers from offering medical benefits to domestic partners. Another turns an anti-bullying measure into its opposite by justifying bullying if the victims are gay or transgendered.
English-only legislation and bills requiring temporary work agencies and public employers and their contractors to use the mistake-ridden E-verify database to match Social Security numbers have been introduced.
There are more, many more, bills passed or still in committee that will negatively impact democracy, labor rights and the life of those living in this state.
Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, during a recent press conference denouncing the Emergency Manager legislation, referred to the 2010 electoral debacle by saying “elections do matter.”
The question for 2012 is will what happened in Michigan take place in the nation as a whole?
Photo: Workers rally against Republican agenda, at the state Capitol in Lansing, March 8. John Rummel/PW