Labor — December 10, 2012 at 6:56 am

Wisconsin anti-union group helping fund Right to Work for Less drive in Michigan


Coming soon to a state near you

Lee Fang over at The Nation has a great piece up titled “Pro–’Right to Work’ Groups In Michigan Outspend Union Counterparts”. In it, he shows how anti-union groups are dramatically outspending pro-union anti-Right to Work for Less groups in Michigan.

[Graph courtesy of Lee Fang | The Nation, used with permission.]

As Fang points out, the only group with any sort of serious budget to fight these fights outside of the unions themselves is Progress Michigan:

On the left, the only comparable group in Michigan is Progress Michigan. Progress Michigan, which is backed by several local unions, brought together a coalition of progressives to oppose right-to-work, and demonstrated at the capital in Lansing this week. Although Progress Michigan has leveraged a sizable local union membership base to make up for its small budget, as the chart I created above shows, it hasn’t been able to compete financially with the right.

Now that the right-to-work fuse has been lit, establishment groups on both sides of the ideological divide have entered the fray, including local chambers of commerce and the Tea Party on the right, and unions on the left. Working America, the AFL-CIO affiliate, has helped mobilize people for protests today. But in terms of shaping the ideological debate—it’s important to realize that the anti-labor forces have worked for years through groups like Mackinac and AFP to set the stage.

Meanwhile, the two biggest funders of the drive to bust Michigan unions are Americans For Prosperity and The Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Fang writes about how these groups have been working toward this endgame for years and are heavily financed by Michigan multi-millionaire Dick DeVos, the man Jennifer Granholm defeated for Governor in 2006 despite being massively outspent herself.

DeVos is certainly at the center of much of what is happening in Michigan. Sources tell me he has assured Republicans that, if they face a recall because of their union-busting votes, he will bankroll their fight against the recall. Conversely, he has essentially blackmailed them, telling them that if they don’t vote to bust the unions, he will withhold campaign contributions in 2014 or will fund a primary opponent.

You can imagine that last meeting between Governor Rick Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger, and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville as they discuss their political futures and the proposition of losing all of that sweet, sweet DeVos money. It was clearly enough to reverse the positions of Snyder and Richardville who, up until that point, didn’t seem to have the intestinal fortitude to take on the unions in Michigan. Nothing like a bit of financial blackmail to give a Republican courage, I suppose.

But Dick DeVos is hardly the only one funding AFP and The Mackinac Center. One Wisconsin Now, a Wisconsin cousin of Michigan’s Progress Michigan, revealed this week that a Wisconsin group is a heavy supporter of these two groups:

Wisconsin’s ‘Money Badger’, Michael Grebe, appears to have his paws in the attack on worker rights in Michigan according to One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. Grebe, who runs the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, has doled out nearly $2 million to three organizations taking leading roles in promoting the attack on worker rights launched by Michigan Republicans in a lame duck session of their state legislature.

Ross commented, “Wherever there are attacks on the rights of middle class and working families, it seems the ‘Money Badger’ Michael Grebe can be found. The Bradley Foundation has been a key funder, to the tune of nearly $2 million, of organizations heavily involved in the attack on worker rights launched by Michigan Republicans in a lame duck legislative session.”

Based on in-depth reporting from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and research by One Wisconsin Now, the Bradley Foundation has doled out $1.87 million in funding over the last decade to the Mackinac Center, Americans for Tax Reform and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, primary advocates behind the so called “right-to work” legislation being rammed through the Michigan legislature this week.

Zack Pohl of Progress Michigan said, “The right-wing infrastructure of Michigan mobilized to launch an unprecedented attack on workers and the middle class this week, and it’s people like Michael Grebe and the Bradley Foundation underwriting it.”

Unions in Michigan are under attack by a host of well-funded groups who have been planning for this battle for decades. The perfect shit storm of 2010 which brought conservative ideologues into power and ceded the Governor’s office, both chambers of the legislature along with our state Supreme Court has given them the opportunity they have been waiting for. The legislation was already written, likely much of it coming from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) who counts many Michigan Republican lawmakers in its membership. The war for ideas, as Fang so perfectly shows, has been underway for years. It was simply a matter of them getting control of the entire state government for them to execute their master plan.

The execution of their plan has been masterful, if not a bit overplayed. While Democrats are famous for sitting around after they achieve political power, hemming and hawing over their next moves, Republicans in Michigan showed no such uncertainty or slowness. Rather, they have pushed through hundreds and hundreds of bills that promote their extreme right conservative ideology. The lame duck session is their last opportunity to push through anything they want. Although they still have majorities in both the Senate and the House, they lost some votes in the House so they are vulnerable to just a small handful of Republicans voting with the Democrats.

The Republicans’ effectiveness is something Democrats should be paying close attention to. One wonders if the left has the same sort of structure in place to capitalize on power once it is achieved.

Here’s the reality, though: they truly have overplayed their hand. The rally planned for Tuesday at the State Capitol Building is going to shut the town down. The surge of union supporters in Lansing is going to overwhelm the city. City officials are already planning to shut down the streets surrounding the Capitol Building so be sure to plan accordingly.

But that’s not all. The Republicans have, amazingly, even lost the editorial staff at the increasingly conservative Detroit Free Press. Check out the front page of the Opinion section from Sunday:

Click for a larger version

A Failure of Leadership.

[W]e trusted Snyder’s judgment.

That trust has now been betrayed — for us, and for the hundreds of thousand of independents who voted for Snyder with the conviction that they were electing someone more independent, and more visionary, than partisan apparatchiks like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker or Florida’s Rick Scott.

It’s a scathing op-ed and I highly commend the entire thing to your attention.

Please plan to attend the rally in Lansing on Tuesday. Wear very comfortable shoes and dress warmly in layers so that you are prepared for any eventuality. Again, pay attention to the street closings so that you know where you are going.

Finally, if you haven’t already, please sign our petition to register you outrage at the prospect of Michigan becoming the 24th Right to Work for Less state by clicking the image below.