Uproar, protests, as Michigan house passes right-to-work law

LANSING, Mich. (PAI)-Amid uproar, protests, confrontations, arrests, a temporary lockout of workers from the state capitol building and a Democratic walkout, the Republican-run Michigan House passed a so-called “right to work” law on Dec. 6.

The tea party-influenced GOP swung quickly into action after Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, earlier in the week, dropped his opposition to the anti-union anti-worker bill and after the state Chamber of Commerce endorsed it. The GOP-run state senate was expected to pass the bill by Dec. 11 and send it to Snyder, who will sign it.

Unionists from all over the Wolverine State converged on the capitol building in Lansing to protest and lobby lawmakers. When unionists arrived on Dec. 6, they found Snyder and the GOP had locked them out. A local judge later ordered the capitol opened, the American Federation of Teachers said.

Confrontations broke out all over the capitol grounds, with state police pepper-gassing unionists and arresting at least 14. Inside the building, the House Democrats, angry with the GOP’s railroad tactics, walked out en masse before the vote. When they returned, they opposed the right-to-work bill, which passed 58-52.

Union leaders put out calls statewide for activists to come to Lansing. “Right to work,” which would strip unions of the power to collect dues from all workers covered by a particular contract, has been a favorite right wing-business cause for decades.

United Auto Workers President Bob King not only asked his members to descend on Lansing, but also met personally with Snyder and legislative leaders beforehand to try to stop right-to-work. He failed. “This is a short term victory” for Snyder and “the radical right wing,” King said. But as a result, “You’ll see a lot more union organizing.”

When RTW first reared its head in Lansing, last year, Teamsters President James Hoffa called it “bad for our paychecks, our union and our state. We need to protect our future by creating good jobs with good benefits. We don’t need more laws that stifle workers’ voices, lower wages and weaken safety in the workplace.”

UAW reported unionists spent the prior weekend “raising awareness around about so-called Right to Work laws, by holding holiday-themed outdoor events. Participants made phone calls to their state senators, urging them not to give corporate special interests the gift of RTW at the expense of working families.”

“There are some basic economic facts that should inform any thoughtful discussion of Right to Work legislation,” state AFL-CIO President Karla Swift added.

 “Workers, union or nonunion, make an average of $1,500 less per year in Right to Work states. They are also less likely to have pension or health care benefits,” Swift noted. She also said RTW states grow more slowly.

The Steelworkers called right-to-work “an unpopular and unnecessary piece of garbage” being “rammed through by a lame-duck legislature.” USW District Director Michael Bolton added, “cowards in the Republican leadership are…telling the people of Michigan that corporate, right-wing interests are more important than the hard-working families.”

“The Michigan labor movement remains committed to working with anyone who prioritizes creation of family-sustaining jobs rather than partisan politics,” Swift said. “This legislation is about silencing the voices of working families in our democracy at a time when what we need is for people to have a stronger voice in building our future,” added AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Political partisanship reigns supreme.”

Action: Tell Michigan’s Gov. Snyder that this anti-worker bill is wrong.  Sign this petition against RTW or call Gov. Snyder at (517) 373-3400.  There will also be a rally on Tuesday in Lansing.  Supporters will be gathering at 9 a.m. at the state Capitol.

Please check the Michigan AFL-CIO Face Book and Twitter pages for updates over the weekend.

Photo: In Lansing, alleged overcapacity still keeping citizens out of their Capitol. Chant erupts in the rotunda: “inside, outside, we’re all together”. Michigan AFL-CIO Facebook.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.