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Michigan House approves right-to-work bill limiting unions

By Jeff Karoub and John Flesher

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 08:13 a.m. HST, Dec 11, 2012

LANSING, Mich. » The Michigan House approved the first of two right-to-work bills today that would weaken union power in the historical labor stronghold as hundreds of protesters rallied at the Capitol.

The Republican-dominated chamber passed a measure dealing with public-sector workers 58-51 as protesters shouted "shame on you" from the gallery and huge crowds of union backers massed in the state Capitol halls and on the grounds.

Democrats immediately sought to have the vote reconsidered but failed in that effort.

Still to come was a vote on a second bill focusing on private sector workers. The Senate approved both last week. If enacted, Gov. Rick Snyder says he will sign them into law as early as Wednesday.

Even with the outcome considered a foregone conclusion, the heated battle showed no sign of cooling as lawmakers prepared to cast final votes.

Hundreds of protesters flooded the state Capitol hours before the House and Senate convened, chanting and whistling in the chilly darkness. Others joined a three-block march to the building, some wearing coveralls and hard hats.

"I'm inspired," said Lindsey Curtis, 61, a retired city worker from Flint. "I thought the unions had just rolled over."

Valerie Constance, a Wayne County Community College District developmental reading instructor and member or the American Federation of Teachers, sat on the Capitol steps with a sign shaped like a tombstone. It read: "Here lies democracy."

"I do think this is a very sad day in Michigan history," said Constance, 57.

Sue Brown, a 50-year-old pipefitter from Midland, and her 26-year-old daughter Tracy Brown, a chemical plant worker in Hemlock, held handwritten signs disparaging Gov. Rick Snyder, who last week announced support for the measures.

"It's disgraceful," said Sue Brown, who said she's not a union member but fears right-to-work laws would lower wages for all. "The unions and the UAW have created the middle class."

If the bills are enacted, Michigan will become the 24th right-to-work state, banning requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services.

Sen. John Proos, a Republican from St. Joseph who voted for the right-to-work bills last week, said opponents had a right to voice their anger but predicted it would fade as the shift in policy brings more jobs to Michigan.

"As they say in sports, the atmosphere in the locker room gets a lot better when the team's winning," he said.

Democratic lawmakers and union backers conceded they had little chance of stopping the tide, with Republicans dominating the Legislature and Snyder pledging to sign the measures into law.

In an interview with WWJ-AM, Snyder said he expects the bills to be on his desk later this week. He said the intention is to give workers a choice, not to target unions.

"This is about being pro-worker," Snyder said.

But foes of the law, including President Barack Obama, are trying to keep the spotlight on this latest battleground in the war over union rights.

"People don't understand the labor movement," said protester Sharon Mowers, 54, of Lansing, a United Auto Workers member and General Motors employee. "They don't understand the sacrifices people made to get us to this point."

In other states, similar battles were drawn-out affairs lasting weeks. But Snyder, a business executive-turned-governor, and the Republican-dominated Legislature used their political muscle to rapidly introduce and ramrod legislation through the House and Senate in a single day last week. Demonstrators and Democrats howled in protest, but to no avail.

Asked today about the speed at which the legislation moved forward, Snyder said the issue wasn't rushed and that the question of whether to make Michigan a right-to-work state has long been discussed.

"There has been lots of time for citizens to contact legislators and share their feelings," he said.

A victory in Michigan, a cradle of organized labor, would give the right-to-work movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt, where the 2010 election and tea party movement produced assertive Republican majorities that have dealt unions one body blow after another.

For all the shouting, the actual benefit or harm of such laws is not clear. Each camp has pointed to studies bolstering their claims, but one labor expert said the conclusions are inconclusive.

"Very little is actually known about the impact of right-to-work laws," Gary Chaison, a professor of labor relations at Clark University in Massachusetts, said Monday. "There's a lot of assumptions that they create or destroy jobs, but the correlation is not definite."

Democrats contend Republicans, who lost five House seats in the November election, wanted to act before a new legislature takes office next month. In passionate floor speeches last week, they accused the majority of ignoring the message from voters and bowing to right-wing interest groups.

Criticism of the legislation has come from all the way up the Democratic food chain.

"These so-called right-to-work laws, they don't have anything to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics," Obama told cheering workers Monday during a visit to an engine plant in Redford, Mich. "What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money."

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and members of the state's U.S. House delegation met with Snyder on Monday in Detroit and urged him to veto the legislation or amend it to allow a statewide referendum. Levin said the governor pledged to "seriously consider" the requests.

In Lansing, leaders of the Democratic minority in the state House acknowledged there was little they could do to stop the fast-moving legislation in the waning days of the session. However, they vowed to vote against other legislation as a form of protest.

Ari Adler, spokesman for Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger, chided those in Washington for "trying to tell Republicans in Michigan to slow down and not do our job in Lansing while they fail to resolve the nation's fiscal cliff crisis or even approve a budget."

Associated Press writers Todd Richmond and Corey Williams in Lansing, Mich., and Ben Feller in Redford, Mich., contributed to this story.

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Maneki_Neko wrote:
A good start!
on December 11,2012 | 06:54AM
Highinthesierras wrote:
Yo, Hawaii - are you awake? This would end the teachers strike in a heart beat. There are many, probably the best, teachers who are sick of UNION leadership and would jump at this opportunity. The laggards will stay with the UNION, but let them strike, who cares.
on December 11,2012 | 07:10AM
mustangguru wrote:
Fat chance that will ever happen here.
on December 11,2012 | 07:13AM
serious wrote:
Correct. It takes Republicans to do it and it will not happen. Look at Boeing, they have record orders for the Dreamliner and there is a union strike pending in Seattle--a union state, but the company was smart enough to put a second plant in a right to work state. I wish they would move the whole production line there!!!
on December 11,2012 | 09:05AM
IAmSane wrote:
on December 11,2012 | 11:52AM
false wrote:
You can of course quit but what would leave you unemployed. LOL
on December 11,2012 | 12:14PM
dancingcat wrote:
unions have become the tail wagging the dog...whats wrong with this picture?? Greedy unions have killed the golden goose...
on December 11,2012 | 07:17AM
nomakeshame wrote:
Right-to-work unfortunately empowers the CEO's, Management, etc. to get rid of employees for really no reason at all. Unless its written in the individual job contracts, most management staff take advantage of the right-to-work rule. The common response that management has towards employees when employees don't agree with management is "you don't like it, go somewhere else". Rather than try to fix issues, they just get rid of the employee complaining and hire someone who will march in lockstep with management every single time and they don't have to have a truly valid reason to get rid of the employee, either.
on December 11,2012 | 07:45AM
serious wrote:
I don't agree--you may be right on that issue but if you recall two HPD officers were caught in Las Vegas selling pot? The Chief here said they were bad actors and had numerous infractions but the union lawyers backed them and a court fight was too expensive for the city so they just rambled on and it took the Nevada officers to catch them. I think the issue in Michigan was that all the employees had to pay union dues. Union protection might be fine but that will never eliminate the bad apples---look at our teachers!!!
on December 11,2012 | 10:03AM
nomakeshame wrote:
serious - I worked for a company that had union employees and management that were hired under right-to-work. The management staff were exempted from joining the union. As long as the paperwork was in order and management had the evidence, there weren't any issues getting union employees fired or let go, it's when the paperwork and evidence is skewed that the union reps have their power to overturn management decisions, which only happened once and it was the general managers decision that got overturned because he lacked sufficient evidence to fire a bartender. This same general manager let 3 out of the 4 managers go under the guise of "position no longer needed" and hired his friends to take the place of the management staff that he just let go, even though none of the managers did anything to get themselves fired or laid off.
on December 11,2012 | 11:35AM
serious wrote:
I think what we are debating is similar to the issues for the Fiscal Cliff. I lived in WA State and a small town Steilacoom had a paper mill--WA is all union!!! Similar to some of the union contracts here in HI, that union had a clause in their contract that the mill had to match the pay and benefits of similar industries. They couldn't match it--the union went on strike and even today you can drive by Chambers Creek where there was a great industry and it died about 15 years ago. Rusty buildings and rotting wood. Workers out of their jobs, the City that depended upon the tax revenue for the only industry in town--kaput! cutting numerous services and putting people out of their town jobs. We all breath the same air, our kids play together, why in heck can't people sit down and negotiate matters? Union or non union--I understand the arguments--but in the middle there has to be an adult.
on December 11,2012 | 11:59AM
walaau808 wrote:
The Beck Decision (google it if you like) does not require full dues payment. It only requires the percentage that's used to bargain, represent, etc.
on December 11,2012 | 11:51AM
copperwire9 wrote:
I completely agree with you, nomakeshame.
on December 11,2012 | 10:45AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Valerie Constance, a member or the American Federation of Teachers, sat on the Capitol steps with a sign shaped like a tombstone that read: "Here lies democracy." Really, Valerie? I though democracy gave people the freedom of choice, which is exactly what the right-to-work law will do. No longer will people be forced to join a union to get a job. That is the democratic way.
on December 11,2012 | 09:21AM
serious wrote:
Agreed, looks like Obama won the war, but is losing the battles. I think America is sick of the unions voting in their selected politicians who give them all their benefits and pay. Look at the President!!! Out politicing in Michigan for unions---and we have this "cliff"--like HI, we need adult supervision.
on December 11,2012 | 10:08AM
walaau808 wrote:
You mean the "take it or leave it" choice that management will certainly impose when they abuse their employees? People already have the right to choose between joining a union or not - nobody is forced to join a union. They can choose to work non-union if they like, but most choose to join because of better wages and working conditions. If you don't want to be in a union, then choose to get another job.
on December 11,2012 | 11:54AM
false wrote:
Don't think for a moment that this would happen in Hawaii. The unions own the legislature. LOL
on December 11,2012 | 12:12PM
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