DETROIT - Michigan Senate Bill 729 is another insidious attack on working people initiated by the Republican-controlled legislature. It's a right-to-work bill aimed at the state's largest public school workers union, the Michigan Educational Association. The bill targets public employee unions with membership greater than 50,000 but unionists believe all unions are in the bull's-eye.
At a rally Friday in Hart Plaza, Metropolitan Detroit Labor Council President Saundra Williams read an excerpt of a speech given by one of the country's most notable peace and justice activists. "Right to Work provides no rights and no work. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining." Those words were delivered fifty years ago by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. but all in the crowd agreed, they are equally relevant today.
The noontime rally took place on a sunny but chilly day. Firefighters stood prominently holding their union's banner. Occupy Detroit activists brought greetings. Many came from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Civil, Human and Women's Rights conference being held nearby.
Kim Bobo, Executive Director of the Interfaith Workers for Justice, quoted Matthew 7:15-20 which says, "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly they are ferocious wolves."
"Right to work is a false prophet," she declared.
Michigan AFT President David Hecker spoke about the far reaching attack on workers' rights in the state. Hecker referred to three of the almost eighty anti-worker bills labor is battling. "What the richest one percent is trying to do with right-to-work, prohibiting union dues deduction (several bills prevent public employee unions from collecting dues), and not allowing union meetings at public facilities (public libraries, for example, will be unavailable) is to make sure they are locked-in and will always control the wealth."
Hecker said the super rich are purposely undermining our democracy by attacking the three institutions in our history that have done the most to provide hope and opportunity for working families: public education, the civil rights movement and the labor movement.
David Gray is an AFT vice-president in Oklahoma City who has first hand experience with right-to-work legislation. He said that in 2000, to hoodwink voters into passing a right-to-work measure, the president of the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce told the lie that industry was waiting at the state line, ready to come in.
Gray said the exact opposite occurred. "As soon as the state voted for right-to-work, industry left. We have less; less union jobs and less pay at both union and non-union jobs." He also said the number without health insurance quadrupled from 140,000 to 600,000 and food banks now run out of food, twice as fast.
Shaun Abbey is the 2nd District vice president of the Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union. On behalf of his union he frequently lobbies legislators in Lansing. Abbey told the crowd Republican legislators often justify their support of right-to-work and their opposition to union dues collection by saying their constituents dislike the union representation they receive. Abbey guesses the numbers are minimal "probably like one half of 1 percent" of all union members." "My point to them is, I don't like my representation in Lansing right now, is it okay for me to not pay my taxes?"
The intent of the legislation was clear Abbey said. "If unions don't have dues, just like if government didn't collect taxes, they'd go downhill. That's what they want," he declared.