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Michigan Legislature to consider Right to Work bills after summer break


Michigan can expect a push in the state legislature to pass Right to Work legislation following the end of the summer break at the capitol.

Right to Work laws would allow for workers who do not want to be members of a union to have that ability and not be required to pay union dues. However, many who support unions claim this creates a “free rider” situation where workers can not pay dues and still receive the benefits of the union’s collective bargaining.

Last summer, Gov. Rick Snyder was asked if he would support turning Michigan into a Right to Work state and he replied, “I would sign it, but I wouldn’t put it on my agenda.” He may soon get the chance to sign such legislation.

Two bills have been introduced regarding Right to Work, SB 116 and SB 120, both back in February. They called for Right to Work zones which would allow different counties to pass their own Right to Work laws if they chose. Neither has had any legislation action taken.

Sen. Arlan B. Meekhof (R-West Olive) was the main sponsor of SB 116 and says RTW “creates an atmosphere where people are willing to invest.”

“I think that we can agree that unions have had their day and have actually brought about some very good things when workers were mistreated,” said Meekhof. “But now I think they have overreached and they are actually sometimes in the way of being more productive and allowing people to work up to their ability and get compensated for the fact that they can do more or created more.”

Jonathan Byrd works for the Michigan Laborers Council, an AFL-CIO affiliate, and said RTW is just another attack on organized labor by Republicans who have corporate interests in mind.

He said it’s not surprising to have Republicans be the main pushers for RTW.

“Look at who funds the two groups (Democrats and Republicans). It’s not really rocket science when you have people like the Koch brothers and very wealthy conservatives pushing a fundamentalist agenda, which is to weaken labor unions.”

Right to Work exists in 22 other states and both Meekhof and Byrd agreed it’s a “flashpoint” issue, which may be why Snyder did not want to push for the legislation.

“I think the governor actually does have bigger issues that are less divisive that he thinks need to be done to move Michigan in the direction he wants to go,” said Byrd. “I don’t think he wants to have the type of labor animosity that has gone on in Wisconsin and a Right to Work fight would certainly do that and I think he is trying to avoid that at all costs.”

Byrd highlighted some issues that the union has with Right to Work.

“If you look at other states that have become Right to Work states their annual salaries are about five thousand dollars less [than those that are not], workplace fatalities go up, fewer people have health insurance, fewer people have pensions, basically it’s a way for corporations and big business to stifle labor unions in an attempt to keep wages low.”

Byrd said Right to Work has no benefit to it for the working class.

Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake) insists that unions are looking at “old data” if they believe Right to Work would put Michigan on the wrong track.

Shirkey said that there was a time in Michigan when Right to Work states had lower wages than highly unionized states, particularly Michigan’s manufacturing sector, but now businesses have moved to those Right to Work states over the years.

Shirkey, along with fellow Republican Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton), said he will be co-sponsoring a bill to push for statewide Right to Work legislation following the summer break.

“Labor Freedom: Where unions are as free to make their case as workers are to make their choice,” will be the slogan Shirkey plans to pitch to Michiganders.

Shirkey says he knows the issue is controversial but insists he can convince the opposition that RTW is right for Michigan.

“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,” said Shirkey in an interview with Michigan Messenger. “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.”

Early this year Republicans and Gov. Snyder were able to easily pass a state budget many bills that drew heated criticism from Democrats. Byrd was asked whether he thought the same could happen with Right to Work.

“I think there is certainly a danger there. With Republicans in control of all four branches of state government, there is certainly that risk. However, I would say that there are still several moderate Republicans out there that want to focus on other issues and this isn’t a priority for them and I think there are many Republicans that would vote against Right to Work.”

Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer has been an outspoken opponent of Right to Work in what she and other Democrats believe to be another attack on working class families.

“Michigan’s working families need to make their voices heard and tell these Republicans that Right to Work simply means Right to Work for less,” added Whitmer. “Republicans have already increased taxes on working families to pay for corporate tax cuts and it’s time we end this attack on the middle class and stand up for Michigan’s workforce.”

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