By Mary Bottari
Today in Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder and his GOP controlled lame-duck legislature pulled a fast one, introducing and then ramming through the House and the Senate so-called "right to work" legislation. The bill was introduced at 11 a.m., passed the House at 5 p.m. by a narrow margin and the Senate at around 6:00 p.m. When the process is complete and the bill is signed, Michigan will become the 24th right to work state.
Why the rush? The GOP majority felt it might not have the votes once the newly elected legislature was seated in January. The bill is designed so it cannot be repealed by popular referendum.
The Capitol was chaotic today as police peppersprayed protesters and locked down the building, forcing Democrats to seek a court order to get the doors open again. "It's not only anti-worker, its anti-democratic," Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero told MSNBC.
Right to work bills prohibit unions from requiring all members to pay dues. The laws make it much harder for unions to organize and exist. They have long been used in the South to push down wages and weaken worker movements. The Michigan bill will apply to both public and private sector unions.
At a time when working families are struggling, the Michigan GOP decided it was a fine time to push for a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions, while at the same time kneecapping their chief opponents in the political arena -- organized workers.
Koch Brothers Kick Up Their HeelsStanding tall behind the measure was David Koch's Americans for Prosperity group, the non-profit organization that bankrolled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's efforts to strip the state's public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights. AFP ran a multi-million dollar ad campaign trying to convince Wisconsinites that unions were their enemy, sponsoring rallies and backing Walker to the hilt when he later faced recall over the measure.
The crowing began early this morning. "Michigan passage of right-to-work legislation will be the shot heard around the world for workplace freedom. A victory over forced unionization in a union stronghold like Michigan would be an unprecedented win on par with Wisconsin that would pave the way for right to work in states across our nation," said Scott Hagerstrom, Michigan director of AFP in a statement.
AFP and other Koch-funded groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have long promoted an extreme anti-worker agenda. It comes as no surprise that key sponsors of the Michigan bill in the House and the Senate such as Senator Arlan Meekhoff, Rep. Tom McMillin, and Rep. Pete Lund are ALEC members. Michigan legislators talked about their plans for passing Right to Work at the ALEC Spring Task Force Meeting in Charlotte earlier this year according to a legislator from New Hampshire.
The ALEC library of bills CMD first posted on ALECexposed.org not only includes a "model" "Right to Work" bill and other measures to disempower and defund unions, but a raft of measures to crush wages for the benefit of corporate CEOs. ALEC has bills to repeal living wage laws, prevailing wage laws, and even minimum wage laws. The only workers ALEC wants to help are workers in China; ALEC has never seen a job killing free trade bill that it has not backed.
Workplace Fairness or a Race to the Bottom?Michigan's Republican Governor Rick Snyder has vowed to sign the bill into law and said today, "This is about workplace fairness and equality. This is about the relationship between workers and their union. Workers should have a right to choose who they associate with." His goal was to "bring people together," not divide Michigan.
This is a change in tune for the Governor who previously said that the legislation was not a "policy priority" because it was "too divisive."
The move was political payback for the unions that had attempted to protect themselves from such an assault by changing the Constitution in an unsuccessful ballot measure this past fall. "The union bosses overreached in Michigan when they tried to strong arm their way into our Constitution, and we are proud to stand with the elected officials who are going to strike a blow for workplace freedom," said AFP's Hagerstrom. AFP opposed Prop 2 and other pro-union measures on the ballot.
But "workplace freedom" does not translate into higher wages.
"Laws like this bring lower wages, slashed benefits, disappearing pensions and unsafe workplaces. They silence the voices of people who work for a living. Calling this bill 'Right-To-Work' is a lie. The only rights it will provide are the rights of millionaires and billionaires to do whatever they want to working people. This is wrong for Michigan and wrong for hard-working people across the United States," said United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard.
"If what we want to do is do a little bit better at attracting certain kinds of low-wage jobs, I think this may help," Michigan economist Charles Ballard said. "But it's an awful lot of political blood to be spilled for something that will not galvanize Michigan's economy."