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Wednesday, November 21,2012

Here comes RTW

by Kyle Melinn
Organized labor took it on the chin on Election Day, and now it’s getting ready for a legislative haymaker that could send the movement back in Michigan to the 1930s.

UAW President Bob King went for the whole enchilada when he pushed for Proposal 2, the collective bargaining constitutional guarantee. And now that it has failed spectacularly, legislative Republicans are moving forward with policy that’s been literally unthinkable until now — Right to Work.

In fact, one prominent Republican told me Monday the only reason RTW is even being discussed is King’s paranoid choice to push Prop 2 this year. It’s causing this person to suggest that if a RTW law is signed, it be named after the union leader.

House Speaker Jase Bolger, a bit sore from getting his integrity dragged through the mud the last two months by Michigan Democratic Party (union) money, is ready to go on RTW, his spokesman confirmed the day after the general election.

“The governor did not want to have that on his agenda,” said Ari Adler. “He asked us not to bring it up so we did not out of respect for the governor. We held off on bringing up Right to Work. The unions brought up the discussion. And so now, we’re going to have that discussion.” 

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, about as good of a friend unions can expect in a Republican, isn’t dousing the talk, either. He said this week that he’s tossing around a version of Right to Work that applies only to public employees, with the exception of police and fire employees, similar to what Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did last year.

“I think that’s on the table,” Richardville said.  “We need to seriously consider all options.” 

And he’s on the moderate end of the philosophical scale in that supermajority Republican caucus.

Right to Work is a legislative policy adopted in some 22 states that allows employees in union shops to opt out of the union, effectively disemboweling collective bargaining units. With the power of a united labor force behind it, unions have far less power at the bargaining table and administrators are less likely to make concessions.

Labor unions in Michigan got nervous last year when Indiana adopted Right to Work legislation, making it the first Rust Belt state to do so. The decision came months after Walker’s decision, making unions here increasingly nervous.

Now, Michigan’s unions — particularly it’s public employee unions — are petrified. They see Gov. Rick Snyder, who isn’t exactly a huge RTW fan, as their last hope to stopping RTW legislation.

They’re holding tightly to his claims that RTW isn’t “on his agenda” and that he believes in collective bargaining. But, as they well know, ending same-sex partner benefits for university employees wasn’t on his agenda, either. But when a bill doing exactly that was presented to him, he signed it.

The only clue we have about what Snyder would do if presented with a RTW bill are from comments he made three years ago to a tea party group, which have the then-gubernatorial candidate conceding that he would sign it.

Union officials are hoping to talk with Snyder behind the scenes about any deal — maybe putting up an underfunded patsy against him in 2014 — that would result in his vetoing any RTW law or at least persuading lawmakers to soften it somehow.

What else can they do? 

The heavy union protests of 2011 seemed to only embolden Snyder to move forward with the emergency manager law and other anti-union legislation. Besides, if Republicans opt to move on something in lame duck, how many deflated protesters will organized labor get to stand on a chilly Capital lawn two weeks before Christmas?

Snyder would have strong reasons to sign at least a public employees RTW bill — both from a policy and political perspective.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that membership in AFSCME, the state’s second largest union in Wisconsin, fell off a cliff — 28,745 in February 2012 from 62,818 in March 2011 — when joining the public sector union became optional. The American Federation of Teachers claim that 6,000 of their 17,000 members quit 15 months after the law was signed.

That not only means public schools and local governments would have more leverage to make cost-cutting decisions without expensive and protracted labor discussions, it means the political action committees (PACs) of these labor unions will be zapped. Fewer members equal less money for Democratic candidates going into 2014 and beyond. 

It could mean that even if he shrugs off a deal with organized labor and signs a version of RTW, Snyder would still face an underfunded Democratic patsy in 2014 if he chooses to run for re-election. 

All the while he has the political cover that RTW was never “on his agenda.”

(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He’s at melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)

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