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Anti-union Mich. rep. accepted tax breaks, loans for his business then fired more workers

A Republican state Representative from Jackson County is coming under fire for accepting tax breaks and government loans for his company and then laying off more workers.

Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake) received a tax abatement in 2005 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation for his non-union company, Orbitforms. The abatement was part of the creation of a Tool and Die Recovery Zone under the state’s Renaissance Zone program. According to the MEDC Dec. 22, 2005 announcement the abatement would “allow companies to operate free of virtually all state and local taxes for up to 15 years, thus boosting their efforts to compete in the face of global competition.”

City of Jackson Office of the Assessor records show the property on which Orbitforms is located — 1600 Executive Drive — has a state taxable value of $655,400.

As part of the deal, Shirkey told MEDC officials he believed the abatements would allow him to create as many as 12 jobs. Instead, Shirkey’s factory, which manufacturers various industrial fasteners, laid off nine workers, reports the Jackson Citizen Patriot.

In addition to the tax breaks, in 2010 Shirkey’s company accepted a $2.6 million loan which was guaranteed by the federal government under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, reported the Jackson Citizen Patriot in April. He accepted this money even though during the 2008 presidential campaign Shirkey posted a telephone message on his company’s phone system in which he attacked then-candidate Barack Obama. That phone message said:

“It is the blatant socialism approaching communism attitudes and values of Barack Hussein Obama that scare the living daylights out of me.”

“If anyone even contemplates voting for this clown, the first thing they should do is have someone test the Kool-Aid they are drinking. Because someone has likely put some idiot juice in it.”

Shirkey is a vocal proponent of “right to work” laws for Michigan, and Democrats and organized labor say that his receipt of ARRA money as well as tax breaks are “hypocrisy” and proof he has “no authority” to speak about job creation in the state.

“This guy is the guy trying to advance so-called ‘Right to Work’ and he doesn’t even know how to create jobs,” says Jonathan Byrd, legislative representative for the Michigan Laborers’ Council. “It’s absurd to me.”

Byrd says that the information undermines Shirkey’s credibility, arguing, “He has no moral authority with this in whatsoever for advancing Right to Work.”

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer echoed Byrd’s criticisms.

“He’s a real hypocrite,” Brewer said. “It’s atrocious. I think he has no principles to discuss Right to Work.”

Shirkey did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

When announcing he would co-sponsor legislation to be introduced after the summer break, Shirkey had this to say:

“We’re going to take a different approach. We’re going to spend a lot of time on the education process, a lot of time in hearings and testimonies and a lot of time out in the public. I’m not underestimating how passionate the labor movement feels about this issue and that’s why we have to work very hard at winning the messaging side of it. One of my goals is to convince them that I think this is good for Michigan, good for jobs, good for families and good for unions.

I want unions to be absolutely free to make their free market case that they have a valued proposition to deliver to prospective union members and letting those prospective union members choose to belong, not forced to belong.”

Proponents of Right to Work say the laws open up the marketplace, making it more competitive in drawing new employers to a region. They say it is also about the right of workers to associate as they choose. In this instance, that would mean requiring a person desiring to be part of the union to directly pay the union his or her dues.

Critics say the laws drive down wages, bust unions and ultimately allow some workers to benefit from the union’s collective bargaining without paying the cost of the negotiations.

“Right to Work advocates do not want to pay their fair share,” says Byrd. “Their cause is — quite frankly — morally bankrupt.”

Brewer called the move toward Right to Work “punitive” and an “ideological attack” on workers.

Bryd and Brewer were not alone in condemning Shirkey. David Holtz, executive director of Progress Michigan, also chastised the state representative.

“Mike Shirkey’s hypocrosy and greed is there for all to see,” said Holtz. “In Representative Shirkey’s world, taking taxpayer subsidies to create jobs then laying people off and championing legislation to crush unions and workers’ rights is just another day in the life, which is unfortunate for the lives of Michigan’s struffling working families.”

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