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Thursday, March 28,2013

A silent protest against Right to Work

Right-to-Work legislation officially takes effect today in Michigan; protests pop up in Lansing and around the state

by Sam Inglot
Sam Inglot/City Pulse

Thursday, March 28 — It’s official: Michigan is a Right-to-Work state, effective today. However, the roughly 50 people on the steps of the Capitol this afternoon weren’t celebrating — they were protesting.

They stood with duct-taped mouths that read “Snyder” and “Silenced” and many of them wore red as a gesture of solidarity with the labor community. They were silent throughout the 45-minute protest. The move was symbolic of the voices of working men and women being “silenced” by the Legislature, said Brett Brown, who was representing the United Auto Workers.

Brown said the legislation has spurred fear in union workplaces because people are worried that their wages will decrease.

“On the work floor, you have a lot of frustration and a lot of fear, which creates a work environment that’s a little bit stressed,” he said.

However, Brown said there is somewhat of a silver lining with the passage of Right to Work. He said the labor community has rallied around the issue and plans on continuing to protest and campaign against legislators who voted for the law.

“We’re more unified than ever. We have solidarity that we haven’t experienced before,” he said. “(Right to Work) is just not what Michigan needs. We’re going to be around every day until this thing gets turned around. This is a temporary deal — it has to be.”

Last year, after months of saying Right to Work was a “divisive issue” and wasn’t right for Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder made an about-face and signed the legislation on Dec. 11 — the same day it passed the Legislature. On that day, approximately 12,000 protesters gathered inside and outside of the Capitol to protest the legislation.

The passage of Right to Work gives employees the option of paying union dues while giving them the benefits negotiated under collective bargaining. Opponents of the legislation, like Rep. Tom Cochran, D-Mason — who was at the protest today — say the “underlying” purpose of the law is a union-busting tactic from Republicans aimed at weakening the union support that consistently goes toward the Democratic Party.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum was also at the protest. Byrum, a former state representative from Onondaga, was a member of the Legislature last year when Right to Work passed.

“I think the state is clearly headed in the wrong direction and I think it’s imperative that we all stand together in solidarity and let the governor and the Legislature know that we won’t forget this,” she said. “This was done in secret. This was done in private — I was there for it when they locked the Capitol down. It’s going to harm our families and our middle class.”

According to press release from the AFL-CIO, similar protests were held in more than a dozen cities across the state including Grand Rapids, East Lansing, Ann Arbor and Detroit.

The silence was broken as the protest ended with a chant led by Brown. He shouted, “Solidarity!” The group responded: “Forever!” 

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