Today might be D-day for the Right-to-Work battle in Michigan. Emboldened by the defeat of the union-backed Protect Our Jobs constitutional initiative that would have forever banned Michigan from going RTW, Michigan Republicans – who control all the branches of government: legislature, governorship and the Supreme Court – are
planning to introduce two bills that will no longer require public and private sector employees to pay mandatory dues as a condition of employment in union shops. Governor Rich Snyder, who had previously said that he would sign such bills if they come to his desk, is between a rock and a hard place now. All of last week, he pleaded with his fellow Republicans to drop their crusade. He seems to have failed. His official reason is that Michigan needs tax and regulatory reform first to bring its economy back on track – not a divisive RTW battle. The unofficial reason is that he is a self-avowed "nerd" who lacks Scott Walker's testosterone to take on the unions.
And take on the unions he will have to.
In a taste of things to come, The Detroit News reported:
Anticipation of the controversial bill's introduction boiled over as several hundred union protesters filled the Capitol, and Senate Democrats briefly demanded bills be read in full — a filibuster-like tactic used to stall the swift passage of legislation. That prompted Senate leaders to lock down the chamber and prohibit anyone — senators, staff, media and onlookers — from coming or going.
No bill was introduced Wednesday.
Protests are expected to resume today and that may keep some right-to-work supporters home.
"It's intimidating to people," said Scott Hagerstrom, state director of the Michigan chapter of Americans for Prosperity, which has brought conservative activists to the Capitol this week. "They don't want a confrontation at all."
Meanwhile, a group in support of a right-to-work law has launched a statewide radio and TV advertising blitz in a bid to sway public opinion on legislation that would outlaw the practice of requiring employees to pay unions a fee as a condition of employment in workplaces governed by collective bargaining agreements.
Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer vowed to invoke political and procedural maneuvers to derail other bills and make life under the dome "as difficult as possible" if the GOP pursues right-to-work legislation.
"If they declare war on the middle class … no one should be surprised if the whole environment at the Capitol changes," said Whitmer, D-East Lansing.
Incidentally, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which had prior to Protect Our Jobs, refused to take a position on Michigan becoming RTW has now come out four square for it. And Snyder, a former businessman himself, can hardly ignore them.
My own hunch? Right to Work is to Michigan Republicans now what ObamaCare was to Congressional Democrats three years ago. They regard this as the single biggest step that the state needs to take to break the chokehold of unions and bring manufacturers back to the state. (Not a single foreign automaker, with the exception of a Mazda plant in Flat Rock that later got bought by Ford, has ever opened a factory in Michigan even though its highly trained auto workforce, one would think, gives it a natural advantage.) If Michigan joins Indiana and many of its southern competitors in becoming an RTW state, it will give an instant shot in the arm to its moribund economy. And the political stars are never going to be aligned better so they'll be damned if they don't get it done. So, I think, Snyder is going to continue to press them to back off – and they are going to continue to refuse. And ultimately he'll have to go along or completely lose credibility in the party.
In any case, stay tuned because things are going to be very interesting for the rest of this not-so-lame duck session.
For a terrific account of the drama playing out in Lansing, read Washington Examiner's Sean Higgins' story.
Update: Republicans have called a press conference for 11 am Eastern, presumably to lay out their next steps.
Update II: Firedoglake is reporting that the vote on the legislation, which will unveiled by Republicans with Snyder in tow shortly, might happen today!
Update III: Unions are apoplectic that Gov. Snyder is justifying his support for RTW now on grounds that it will expand the freedom to work in Michigan. They counter that the bill is not so much about freedom to work as it is about "freedom to freeload." Why? Because unions will still have to represent the non-dues paying workers in collective bargaining negotiations. Allow me to point out that this is a bullshit argument for three reasons: (a) The only reason that freeloading is even a possibility is because unions have written their exclusive bargaining rights into law. If unions would give up their monoply over bargaining, individual workers would be able to negotiate on their own behalf or form alternative unions. (b) Many states actually require workers to pay some dues to cover the costs of bargaining and, if I were the unions, that's what I'd be trying to get right now rather than using up my political capital to stalling the entire legislation. (c) If the choice is between Big Labor freeloading off the pockets of workers and workers freeloading off the pocket of Big Labor, I'd take the latter any day.
Update IV: 1.50 pm Eastern: This just in from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy: Gov. Snyder and his fellow Republicans have announced that they will introduce in the legislature today a bill dubbed "The Workplace Fairness and Equity Act" to make Michigan the 24th Right-to-Work state in the Union. Notes the Mackinac release:
The move comes less than a year after Indiana became a right-to-work state. Since that time, the Hoosier State has added 43,300 jobs, while Michigan has lost 7,300. Indiana's manufacturing sector added 13,900 new jobs, while Michigan's lost 4,200. Nationally, the numbers are even more telling. Between 1980 and 2011, total employment in right-to-work states grew 71 percent, while employment in forced unionism states grew just 32 percent. Employment in Michigan grew just 14 percent during that same time. Inflation-adjusted compensation over the last decade grew 12 percent in right-to-work states, but just 3 percent in forced unionism states.
Update V, 3:06 pm Eastern: The USA Today is reporting that the police arrested several protesters and sprayed mace into the crowd in the state Capitol as lawmakers discussed right-to-work. Says the story:
The protesters were arrested as they tried to rush the Senate floor, said Michigan State Police Inspector Gene Adamczyk.
"When several of the individuals rushed the troopers, they used chemical munitions to disperse the crowd," he said. "It would be a lot worse if someone gets hurt and I failed to act."
Update VI, 4.57 pm Eastern: The Michigan House has passed the bill 58-52, although everything won't be wrapped up till next Tuesday, my sources tell me. Former New York Times auto reporter Micheline Maynard is tweeting that although the protests against the bill were intense, they were "nothing like days' worth in WI, IN or OH on collective bargaining." Partly, I believe, this is because of the speed with which things moved in the Wolverine State, leaving little time for the already war-weary unions to recoup and organize after their misguided battle for Prop 2.
Correction: The original post claimed that no foreign automaker had ever set up a factory in Michigan. Actually, Mazda did very brieflly buy and operate the Ford plant in Flat Rock before Ford rebought 50 percent of the plant. It operated as join venture until earlier this year when Mazda suspended all production on U.S. soil.