It takes a lot to get Theodore J. St. Antoine mad. But what really got my Uncle Ted’s Irish up (our family hails from County Roscommon) was Michigan Governor Rick Snyder conspiring with the Republican-controlled legislature to turn the ancestral home of American labor into a “right-to-work” state – and to do it through fast-track legislation snuck through without public hearings or even notice while angry citizens mobilizing to protest this desecration of Michigan’s heritage were barred by police from their own State Capitol until the wretched deed was done.
The new law, says the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, was passed “in a travesty of normal democratic deliberation” as Snyder and Republicans rushed the right-to-work bill through a lame-duck session in a way that was “insidious.”
The anti-union crowd waited until after the election to pass it, said Dionne. Then Snyder, who had previously avoided taking a stand on right-to-work “miraculously discovered that it would be a first-rate economic development measure.”
Further, the law was attached to an appropriations bill as a rider to make it much harder for voters to later challenge the law through a popular referendum. It was the first time, Ted told the Wall Street Journal, he had ever seen a right-to-work law passed using a spending bill as a human shield to prevent the people from later shooting it down.
And so in a curtly-worded letter to Governor Snyder, Ted, who is a long-time labor law professor and one-time dean of the University of Michigan Law School, wrote this: “You have been elected to represent all the people of this State. You should do so.”
Ted now devotes most of his time to speaking and writing about subjects like the Model Employment Termination Act, a law he wrote as official draftsperson and which protects workers against arbitrary and capricious bosses.
As I said, Ted has a long fuse and his equanimity has been honed by years spent mediating union and management disputes, including the dozens of Major League Baseball arbitrations he’s settled involving super stars (and super-sized egos) like Curt Schilling, Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Darryl Strawberry.
And so Ted was surprised and disappointed that Governor Snyder, who posed as a sensible centrist, would act in such a ruthless and underhanded way against labor in a state that honors and even reveres labor unions.
“Although I am a life-long Democrat, I voted for you because I felt you had the business acumen and the balanced judgment to lead Michigan through some serious financial difficulties,” Ted said to Governor Snyder.
Though he understood the pressures Snyder was under, Ted said the Governor’s actions were disappointing nonetheless since “almost no one who seriously studies labor relations believes so-called ‘right-to-work’ legislation is a matter of ‘worker freedom.’”
Existing federal and state law already forbids workers from joining a union against their will or being subject to its discipline, said Ted. What the law does require is that if a majority of the employees want union representation, the union and the employer may agree that all the employees in the unit must pay their fair share of the representation costs that the union is legally obligated to provide for all the employees in the unit, without discrimination among union members and nonmembers, said Ted.
“Right-to-work” laws, said Ted, allow some workers to become “free riders” who benefit from the fruits of the union’s negotiating without having to pay for those benefits.
“It’s wholly contrary to democratic principles to argue that the minority need not pay what can fairly be described as the tax that the majority has levied to fund the collective representative,” said Ted.
But let’s be honest with ourselves, Ted told Snyder. “‘Right-to-work’ legislation is not proposed for the benefit of workers. Its proponents are the same persons who in the past have opposed minimum wages, workers’ compensation, Social Security, and a wide range of other social legislation.”
Right-to-work laws are supposed to attract new business into a state, but studies say their track record is mixed as best. “What we do know is that as union strength has waned, income and wealth inequality in this country has greatly increased,” said Ted. “Both the working class and the middle class have been the losers. And the true objective of ‘right-to-work’ legislation is to stifle even further the strength of unions.”
Indeed, as Dionne says, “the moral case for unions is that they give bargaining strength to workers who would have far less capacity to improve their wages and benefits negotiating as individuals. Further gutting unions is the last thing we need to do at a time when the income gap is growing.”
And not just the income gap. At a time when Big Money is stronger than ever, our democracy pays a huge price not having the countervailing power which labor unions provide.
It’s hard not to see this vote against unions, so quickly after Republicans were soundly defeated all throughout the union strongholds of the Midwest, as being a petulant reprisal against those who beat them and an effort to pave the road to Republican victories in 2014 by using the law to erode the foundations of the opposition.
After Republicans lost the popular vote for the fifth time in the last sixth presidential elections, Dionne said he was initially hopeful Republicans understood “new thinking might be in order.”
But after the sneak attack Republicans launched against labor in Lansing, Dionne is not so sure anything has really changed. It now looks as if Republicans are once again in the hands of those who reject adjusting to a new electorate and new circumstances and instead believe the strategy for future victories lies in using naked government power to “alter the political playing field in a way that diminishes the political influence of groups likely to be hostile to the conservative agenda.”
And that is why my disappointed uncle sent his “Dear Rick” letter to Michigan’s Governor Snyder.
By: Ted Frier, Open Salon, December 19, 2012
Let’s say you and your brother are a pair of billionaires who reap your profits from the poisoning of the earth and whose daddy co-founded the John Birch Society — and you poured millions into the 2012 elections, only to see your candidates felled by a party led by a black guy who’s big on green energy, and who bailed out the U.S. auto industry in a way that voters seemed to like.
Wow. You must be feeling pretty powerless, especially after all of that press about how you’re the mighty and nefarious force behind the Tea Party, whose brew has suddenly gone a bit tepid. So whattaya gonna do?
Why, find a way to crush those pesky labor unions in a place that will hurt them badly. Say, the auto capital of the world, where an entire industry (and consequently, its unions) was saved through government intervention by that integrationist tree-hugger: Michigan. You’ll show those “urban” voters who liked that stinkin’ bailout!
So, in a lame-duck legislative session last week, the Republican majority rammed through a destructively anti-union bill, which the governor — in contradiction of his previous policy — has pledged to sign. (Brother Kilgore has the deets here.) And the Koch-founded group, Americans For Prosperity, gave the governor a big high-five.
Local analysts chalk it all up to payback by Michigan legislators for the unions’ attempt to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution via a referendum known as Proposal 2, which failed at the ballot box on November 6, and for the repeal of Snyder’s “emergency manager” law, which succeeded. But from where I sit, in the nation’s capital city, I see something bigger, something national in character.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has always tried to present himself as a breed apart from Kochbot governors of Wisconsin and Ohio, even as he grabbed for power with an “emergency manager” law that allowed him to appoint operatives to run failing cities and break labor agreements with public employees in those towns. But other anti-union measures, such as those forced through in Wisconsin, were deemed to be off the table by Snyder, as was the onerous proposition that workers in closed union shops should be allowed to opt out of paying dues. (Proponents call this sort of thing “right to work”; unions call it “right to work for less”.)
But last week, as David Koch presumably sat stewing in the pot of wholesale defeats, Snyder had a sudden change of heart, promising to sign a bill that was rammed through both houses of a lame-duck legislature last week, a bill that would do just that, conveniently drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, and organization funded by Koch and his brother, Charles.
It was so ugly that even the editorial board of the Detroit Free Press, which once cheer-led for Snyder, basically called him, in not so many words, a duplicitous, overstepping liar.
By: Adele Stan, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 9, 2012
A Dane County judge has ruled that the anti-collective bargaining law championed by Governor Scott Walker—legislation that would ultimately lead to the failed effort to recall the controversial Wisconsin governor—is unconstitutional under both the Wisconsin and United States Constitutions.
While the news will, no doubt, bolster the spirits of Wisconsin unions fighting to regain their collective bargaining rights, they should not allow their hopes to get too high.
The case will, inevitably, end up in the Wisconsin Supreme Court where that highly partisan and political body—with the majority firmly in the camp of Governor Walker—is almost a sure bet to overrule the lower rule’s decision.
In the meantime, the impact of the ruling on existing union agreements remains unclear.
While the unions will seek to have the court’s decision take effect immediately, thus clearing the way to a return to the collective bargaining table in the state, the Walker administration will surely seek a stay pending review by the highest court in the state.
In response to the ruling, Governor Scott Walker issued a statement accusing Judge Juan Colas of being a “liberal activist” who “wants to go backwards and take away the lawmaking responsibilities of the legislature and the governor. We are confident that the state will ultimately prevail in the appeals process.”
Wisconsin Assembly Minority Leader, Peter Barca responded by saying, “This decision will help re-establish the balance between employees and their employers.”
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, September 14, 2012
Maine Governor Paul LePage has been waging war on the state’s unions.
The fight around Wisconsin’s public employee unions has in the national spotlight frequently over the last 18 months—culminating in Governor Scott Walker defeating an effort to recall him from office. But while most were at least a little familiar with the Badger State’s turmoil around the right to organize and collectively bargain, few have watched the unfolding drama in Maine, where Governor Paul LePage has courted controversy in his discussion of the state’s unions.
The governor made headlines a year ago when he removed a mural, deemed too favorable to unions, from the side of the state’s Department of Labor building. (In March, a federal judge ruled in favor of LePage’s decision.) But the art was only the beginning.
LePage has been in a protracted battle over a collective bargaining agreement with the public employee union Maine State Employees Association, which happens to be the biggest union in the state. Stateline has a great summary of the fights, which include various complaints against the governor; “the most significant, which has been granted a hearing, alleges that the state failed to negotiate in good faith and interfered with the rights of MSEA workers.” The governor has also pushed right-to-work legislation—which makes union fees voluntary and generally weakens or kills unions in states—in the typically moderate, pro-union state. The legislature doesn’t seem to be quite so excited about killing labor in the state, but it did take away union rights from independent childcare providers according to the Portland Press Herald.
But LePage’s relationship with labor turned particularly sour at a town hall meeting at the end of April, when, as the Bangor Daily News reported, the governor answered a question about fees by saying, “The problem is the middle management of the state is about as corrupt as you can be. Believe me, we’re trying every day to get them to go to work, but it’s hard.” Corrupt and lazy to boot!
Not only did the remarks rile the union leaders, but, as many local media noted, two GOP lawmakers also spoke out to defend state workers. LePage even sent a letter himself, clarifying the remarks to say that “some employees … had been corrupted by bureaucracy.” The note was far from an apology. “If you are dragging your feet because you do not like the direction the Administration is headed, then it is time to either get on board or get out of the way,” LePage wrote.
The results in Wisconsin will likely offer a game plan to other anti-union governors, showing they can count on the national GOP establishment to back them up. Maine may well become a state to watch as public employee unions in particular get targeted.
According to Waterville’s Morning Sentinel, when asked about the Wisconsin results, LePage said, in a fake Jamaican accent, “Yah, mon!”
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, June 7, 2012
Members of Congress who questioned Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker when he testified before a US House committee last year are asking the chairman of that committee to help them determine whether the controversial anti-labor governor made deceptive statements while under oath.
The ranking Democratic member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, joined Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly and Connecticut Congressman Christopher Murphy in signing a letter to Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-California, which asks Issa to contact Walker and seek “an explanation for why his statements captured on videotape appear to contradict his testimony before the committee.”
The Congressmen began their letter: “We are writing to request that you ask Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to clarify his testimony before our Committee hearing on April 14, 2011, in light of a new videotape taken of Governor Walker three months earlier and an article published last week by The Nation entitled “Did Scott Walker Lie Under Oath to Congress?” Did Scott Walker Lie Under Oath to Congress?’”
Here’s the May 14 article that got members of Congress asking questions anew of Governor Walker:
Did Scott Walker Lie Under Oath to Congress?
When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker met with a billionaire campaign donor a month before he launched his attack on the collective-bargaining rights of public-sector workers and public-school teachers, he engaged in a detailed discussion about undermining unions as part of a broader strategy of strengthening the position of his Republican party.
After he initiated those attacks, Governor Walker testified under oath to a Congressional committee. He was asked during the April 2011 hearing to specifically address the question of whether he set out to weaken unions—which traditionally back Democrats and which are expected to play a major role in President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign—for political purposes. Walker replied: “It’s not about that for me.”
During the same hearing, Walker was asked whether he “ever had a conversation with respect to your actions in Wisconsin and using them to punish members of the opposition party and their [union] donor base?”
Walker replied, not once but twice, that the answer was “no.”
So, did the governor of Wisconsin lie, under oath, to Congress? The videotape of Walker talking with Diane Hendricks, the Beloit, Wisconsin, billionaire who would eventually give his campaign more than $500,000, surfaced late last week. Captured in January 2011 by a documentary filmmaker who was trailing Hendricks, the conversation provides rare insight into the governor’s long-term strategy for dividing Wisconsin. And the focus of the conversation and the strategy is by all evidence a political one.
In the video, Walker is shown meeting with Hendricks before an economic development session at the headquarters of a firm Hendricks owns, ABC Supply Inc., in Beloit. After Walker kisses Henricks, she asks: “Any chance we’ll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions?”
“Oh, yeah!” says Walker.
Henricks then asks: “And become a right-to-work [state]?”
Walker replies: “Well, we’re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer.”
After describing the strategy, Walker tells the woman who asked him about making Wisconsin a “completely red state”: “That opens the door once we do that.”
In a transcript of raw footage from the conversation, Hendricks asks Walker if he has a role model. Walker replies that he has high regard for Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who early in his term used an executive order to strip collective-bargaining rights away from public employees and who, more recently, signed right-to-work legislation. Walker described the use of the executive order to undermine union rights as a “beautiful thing” and bemoaned the fact that he would have to enact legislation to achieve the same end in Wisconsin.
Within weeks, the woman who asked Walker about his strategy to make Wisconsin “a completely red state” wrote a $10,000 check to support his campaign. (She would eventually up the donation to $510,000, making Hendricks the single largest donor in the history of Wisconsin politics.) Within a month, Walker had launched the anti-union initiative that the two had discussed as a part of that “red-state” strategy, provoking mass protests that would draw the attention of Congress.
Testifying under oath to the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Walker said in his formal statement and in response to questions from committee members that his efforts to restrict the collective-bargaining rights of unions— including moves to prevent them from collecting dues, maintaining ongoing representation of members and engaging effectively in political campaigns—had nothing to do with politics.
Walker was asked specifically about a Fox News interview with Wisconsin state Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald, in which Fitzgerald said of the anti-union push: “If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.”
Congressman Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, asked Walker about Fitzgerald’s statement. “I understand you can’t speak for [Fitzgerald] but you can opine as to whether you agree with your state Senate leader when he says this is ultimately about trying to defeat President Obama in Wisconsin. Do you agree?”
“I can tell you what it is for me,” Walker answered. “It’s not about that. It’s ultimately about balancing the budget now and in the future.”
Under questioning from other members of the committee (especially Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley), however, Walker admitted that many of the moves he initiated had no real impact on the state budget.
They did have the impact of weakening unions in the workplace and in the politics of the state, however.
It was in that context that Congressman Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, pressed Walker on the matter of political intentions.
“Have you ever had a conversation with respect to your actions in Wisconsin and using them to punish members of the opposition party and their [union] donor base?
“Never had such a conversation?” Connolly pressed.
“No,” said Walker.
The videotape from several months earlier, in which Walker speaks at length with his most generous campaign donor, suggests a very different answer to the questions from Murphy and Connolly. Indeed, the videotape shows Walker having just such a conversation.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, May 22, 2012