On Tuesday evening, a Republican committee chairman in the Wisconsin state senate, Stephen Nass, cut short a hearing on an anti-union bill, citing a “credible threat” that union members were about to disrupt the proceedings.
Credible threat? That’s the phrase used in terrorist warnings. But the only union members in Madison were the estimated 1,800 to 2,000 workers, many of them wearing hard hats and heavy coats, who’d gathered peacefully in and around the Capitol during the day to oppose the bill. They believe it’s an attack on working families designed to weaken organized labor – which it is.
So who was credibly threatening whom?
The Service Employees International Union, which represents low-wage service workers, had planned to protest the committee’s scheduled hard stop of testimony at 7 p.m., because the cut-off was too early to accommodate everyone who wanted to be heard. To avoid that, all the committee chairman had to do was extend the hearing. Instead, by ending it abruptly, dozens of people who had been waiting all day for the chance to speak were deprived of that opportunity – even as the Republican majority on the committee hastily voted to send the bill to the full Senate.
Not surprisingly, when the meeting ended early those who had been waiting erupted in anger and indignation, shouting profanities and “shame,” according to the A.P., and creating so much noise that the roll call vote could not be heard. The result — 3 Republicans in favor, 1 Democrat against and 1 Democrat who didn’t vote because he wanted more debate — was announced later. For someone so concerned about avoiding a disruption, Mr. Nass didn’t seem too concerned about causing one.
Mr. Nass later said he didn’t want protestors to disrupt the meeting the way they did hearings on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s measure in 2011 to strip public unions of collective bargaining rights. Leaving aside the fact that those rallies lasted for weeks and drew up to 100,000, Mr. Nass said the protestors were trying to “take over the process of representing all of the people of this great state.”
Where does one start to unpack that? The protestors are the people of the great state. The bill in question threatens their pay, their jobs and their values. They were trying to participate in the process. Democracy, anyone?
By: Teresa Tritch, Taking Note, Editorial Page Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, February 25, 2015
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
Without one hearing or any public comment in the midst of a lame-duck session after an election where Republicans lost five seats in the State House and their presidential candidate lost the state by 9.5 percent, Republicans in both Michigan’s House and Senate have passed so-called ‘right to work’ legislation.
Republican governor Rick Snyder, who campaigned as a moderate and continually said that ‘right to work’ was not on his agenda now, says he will sign the legislation.
Thus Michigan will become the 24th state in the union to pass legislation that bars unions from automatically collecting dues from all employees covered under a collective bargaining agreement. This highly symbolic move to strike at the heart of unions in the state where unionized auto workers helped create the middle class would not be possible without the support of multi-billionaires, specifically the Koch brothers and Rich DeVos, founder of Amway.
The bill that Snyder will sign is nearly identical to model legislation written by Koch-funded group American Legislative Exchange Council. Another Koch-funded group, Americans for Prosperity, has been advocating for the legislation, reportedly pressuring lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, who had previously refused to support the anti-union measure. For the Kochs, the intent of the bill is to clearly to diminish the power of the group that fuels the progressive movement–organized labor.
A group calling itself “Freedom To Work” has deluged Michigan’s TV airwaves in support of the legislation, arguing that the bill would both create jobs and “protect collective bargaining.”
According to state rep. Brandon Dillon, Freedom To Work is funded by Amway’s DeVos, a Michigan resident who ran for governor against Jennifer Granholm in 2006 and lost.
Longtime Michigan political advisor Dana Houle insists that this bill isn’t about making Michigan more competitive, as Governor Snyder suggests. It’s a about enacting a vast scope of right-wing legislation.
“Don’t anyone think that passing ‘right to work’ in Michigan is about economics, about jobs, about business,” Houle said. “It’s about wiping out the political and electoral power of unions so they can’t stand in the way of Dick DeVos electing apparatchiks who will enact his radical religious-right and anti-public schools agenda.”
Unions are considering their options to undo the bills, which were designed so they cannot be overturned by a popular vote.
For those still wondering how ‘right to work’ or ‘right to work for less’ or ‘freedom to freeload’ could happen in a union stronghold like Michigan, take a look at this helpful breakdown of where the AFL-CIO thought the votes would come from. It turns out they were right.
Photo: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio; Chart: AFL-CIO
By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, December 11, 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
After weeks of pressure, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) appears to be backing away from long-term efforts at creating barriers to voting (voter-ID laws) and pushing “Stand Your Ground” legislation. The latter allows those who feel threatened in public places to use force; Florida’s version is currently at the center of the Trayvon Martin case. Giving in to public pressure, ALEC announced Tuesday that it was disbanding its Public Safety and Elections task force, which promoted such legislation and helped see it proliferate. The organization is now “reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy.” ALEC’s spokesperson did not respond to interview requests nor did Public Safety Task Force Chair Jerry Madden, a Texas state representative.
ALEC, which proudly calls itself “the nation’s largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators,” has operated as a largely secret arena in which corporate sponsors and conservative legislators share ideas. The group offers model legislation to its members, which has in the past simply been introduced in legislatures unchanged. While the group says its goals are job growth and economic development, it has actively promoted voter-ID legislation to make it harder to vote as well as anti-union measures and those to limit lawsuits. The group also pushes for law taxes and decreased regulation.
As controversy grew around the slaying of Trayvon Martin and Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws, ALEC found itself on the ropes. The Martin shooting sparked widespread public outcry. Civil-rights group Color of Change helped lead public campaigns against ALEC and its affiliated companies for its support of such laws. In the face of growing grassroots pressure over the last few weeks, major ALEC corporate members like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have dropped membership, as have McDonald’s, Kraft Food, Mars and others. Just Monday, a New York Times editorial slammed ALEC for its role in promoting Stand Your Ground legislation.
In the statement announcing the end of the Public Safety and Elections task force, the organization shifted its focus to “free-market, limited government, pro-growth policies.”
But this hardly constitutes a victory. ALEC still has a variety of task forces: There’s the Civil Justice Task Force, Education Task Force, and Health and Human Safety Task Force, all of which seem a bit removed from the group’s ostensible goals. The Civil Justice Task Force’s efforts appear largely focused on tort reform, as evidenced by the latest initiative “Expanding the Law Under New Restatement of Torts” and its latest publication, “The State Legislator’s Guide: Tort Reform Boot Camp.”
Then there’s the disturbing impact on health care and education. As The Nation showed in its “ALEC Exposed” series, the group has lobbied all out against health-care reform, while its education task force, headed partially by an executive for the for-profit online education company Connections Academy, has pushed hard for vouchers and increased privatization in American public schools. Its latest publication, a report card on education, begins with by comparing the battle over education reform to the World War II, with teacher unions being—you guessed it—Germany and Japan.
In the end, the Public Safety and Elections task force has already had its success. Voter-ID laws have proliferated around the country, making voting harder for poor and minority Americans. And according to the Times, Stand Your Ground is already law in 24 states.
Color of Change and its boycott isn’t likely to stop the pressure any time soon. In a statement responding to the news, executive director Rashad Robinson didn’t mince words: “To simply say they are stopping non-economic work does not provide justice to the millions of Americas [sic] whose lives are impacted by these dangerous and discriminatory laws courtesy of ALEC and its corporate backers.
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, April 17, 2012