Governor Snyder takes sides on Right to Work for Less — It’s now “on the table”

And the winner is… the anti-Labor conservatives

NOTE: This is an abbreviated version of a post I published at the AFL-CIO NOW blog. Click HERE to read the whole piece.

For months and months, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has been playing Switzerland on the topic of “Right to Work For Less” (RTWFL) — the Orwellian-named anti-labor union drive — saying “It’s not on my agenda” but never promising to veto RTWFL legislation. He literally used that exact phrase every single time he was asked about it right up until this past week.

Yesterday, all of that changed. After a meeting with top Republican leaders from the state House and Senate, it’s now “on the table”.

RTWFL is also known as “Right to Freeload”. In RTWFL states, workers aren’t required to pay union dues even if they work for a union company with the higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions that come with a union job. The unions are forced by law to protect all workers, even those that don’t contribute financially toward the expenses incurred from providing those protections. Mandatory union membership is already forbidden by law.

Michigan has less than two weeks left in its lame duck session and Republicans have been scrambling to pass RTWFL since it began. One unlikely ally has been Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. Richardville is from Monroe, a blue collar town, and appears to be reticent to engage in direct a battle with labor unions in this way, perhaps to avoid the political fallout that would ensue in his district. He has suggested restricting RTWFL only to public employee unions and has been, in general, against bringing any RTWFL legislation to the floor.

However, Tuesday’s meeting, one of several that have taken place in the past two weeks, appears to have shifted power to the most anti-union lawmakers in the legislature. The Detroit Free Press is reporting that Snyder has now declared the RTWFL is now “on the table” after all:

Right-to-work is now “on the agenda” at the state Capitol, but no decision has been made on whether to pass such a law, Gov. Rick Snyder said today.

Snyder’s remarks signal a marked departure from his previous stance. For months, the governor said such a law was not on his agenda.

Snyder made the comments after a lengthy meeting in his Capitol office with the legislatures GOP leadership, House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. {..}

[Snyder said] there is a view that unions must put something on the table if right-to-work is not to proceed, after having gone ahead with a collective bargaining ballot proposal against his urging in last month’s election.

“There’s been discussions with people in labor,” he said.

However, “this isn’t just a trade-off or bargaining, per se,” he said. “This is about doing what’s right for the citizens of Michigan.”

In other words, this is punishment for the attempt by Michigan unions to enshrine collective bargaining rights with their Protect Working Families ballot proposal in November. Though the proposal was not adopted, Michigan Republicans appear to believe that repercussions are in order.

The goal of RTWFL is clear: reduce union membership and take away any power that they have. Anti-union groups have taken to robocalling Michiganders, referring to RTWFL as a “Freedom to Work” law. Anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist has even got in on the action:

Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, sent all legislators a letter Nov. 30, adding to the growing chorus of conservative groups pressuring the Republican-controlled Legislature to jam through a right-to-work bill this month.

“This is one of the most important steps you can take to jump-start the state’s economy, boost employment and spur population growth,” Norquist wrote.

Sara Wallenfang, spokeswoman for the Michigan state AFL-CIO, dismissed Norquist’s comments.

As far as we are concerned, an endorsement from a man who has proudly held hostage the strength of the middle class and the well-being of this country in the name of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans should speak for itself,” Wallenfang said in a statement.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which has previously said they do not support RTWFL, jumped on the bandwagon this week, throwing their support behind the union-crushing legislation along with ultra-conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity which held a rally at the state Capitol building on Tuesday. Progress Michigan Executive Director Zack Pohl said, “It’s pretty clear that Chamber Boss Rich Studley has been lying to Michigan voters for months by hiding the Chamber’s true position on Right to Work. Now the CEO bosses are making a political power grab by pushing legislation that will squeeze even more money out of the working middle class and leave workers with no protections for things like job security, pensions, and working conditions. Michiganders overwhelmingly support collective bargaining rights. It’s time for Lansing politicians to get their priorities straight and focus on creating jobs and improving education, not on passing laws that undermine collective bargaining rights.”

Labor groups haven’t thrown in the towel, however. Karla Swift, president of the Michigan State AFL-CIO, sent out an action email just hours after news broke that Gov. Snyder had changed his position on RTWFL, informing union members of a Citizens Lobby Day at the Capitol today starting at 8 a.m.

Working America state Director Fran Brennan, too, says Working America members will be working hard to keep Michigan from becoming a RTWFL state. “In states that have RTWFL laws, workers have a lower standard of living, make an average of $1,500 less per year and go without health insurance more frequently. Our members cannot afford surrendering another $1,500 from their annual paychecks,” she said. “They have become empowered and are now engaged in writing hundreds of letters and making hundreds of calls to their elected officials. Right to Work is wrong for Michigan and Working America members are determined to have their voices heard now so all workers voices can be heard in the future! And, we will hold politicians accountable for their actions.”

For more information on the battle to keep Michigan a union-friendly state, follow the Michigan AFL-CIO and Protect Working Families Facebook pages for updates.

[Photo credit: Anne C. Savage, used with permission.]

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