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
“That’s Some Soul-Searching”: Republicans Are Just Too Beholden To The Interests Of Corporations And The Christian Right
On Nov. 6, Americans turned out in massive numbers to reelect President Obama, take away seats from Republicans in the House and the Senate and pass progressive ballot measures throughout the country. But it seems that Republicans in Washington and in states across the country just didn’t get the hint. Despite all the talk of post-election “soul-searching,” there doesn’t appear to be any self-examination going on among those currently clinging to their seats in Congress and state legislatures.
Look at Michigan. Just weeks after the state legislature’s Republicans took a drubbing from voters, who cut their majority in the state House from 18 to 8 despite recent Republican gerrymandering, the state’s GOP leadership went on a right-wing rampage.
First, they passed a package of so-called “right to work” laws that are meant to politically weaken unions and have the side effect of financially weakening the middle class. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder was against “right to work” before he was for it, thanks to some powerful arm-twisting from corporate front groups.
Then, they got to work on some extreme anti-choice measures. One tries to force abortion clinics out of business by regulating them into the ground. It also places unnecessary burdens on women, including requiring them to prove they weren’t “coerced” into seeking an abortion; prohibiting them from consulting with their doctor via videoconference; and requiring them to sign a death certificate and hold a funeral for the aborted fetus (this requirement, at least, has just been removed from the bill). Yet another bill would let doctors refuse to provide or employers refuse to cover any procedures they find immoral. This one isn’t just about abortion — it could allow employers to refuse their employees insurance coverage for contraception, or even blood transfusions. Sounds familiar? The Blunt Amendment in the U.S. Senate — wildly unpopular except among the Senate GOP — would have done the same thing.
Anybody who was paying the least bit of attention to this year’s elections would have noticed that two of the things voters find most repugnant about today’s GOP is its blind allegiance to big corporations and its enthusiasm for regulating women’s health.
Apparently the Republican Party wasn’t paying attention. Or is just too beholden to the interests of the Corporate and Christian right to care.
What’s happening in Michigan is just a microcosm of the whole. In Ohio, immediately after an election shaped in part by the GOP’s toxic attacks on women’s health, Republican legislators got to work trying to defund Planned Parenthood. And in Washington, D.C., Republican leaders are approaching fiscal cliff negotiations with the sole goal of protecting George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy.
By: Michael B. Keegan, The Huffington Post Blog, December 14, 2012
The Michigan legislature’s lame duck session is only three weeks long, but the state house didn’t need more than 18 hours to move the state sharply to the right. During a marathon session Thursday and Friday, the state house passed a variety of very conservative bills on issues from abortion to gun control to taxes. You can’t say they’re not efficient. The state, which favored Obama by 9 points and has long been home to a moderate-progressive movement, may now have a set of laws that puts it on America’s more conservative end.
Perhaps most shocking for pro-choice advocates was the effort to restrict abortion rights—or, as Mother Jones put it, “the abortion mega-bill.” Assuming the governor signs the bill into law, women in Michigan will now have to buy separate insurance policies to cover abortion. Otherwise, even in cases of rape or miscarriage, the abortion will not be covered. Clinics that provide more than 120 abortions a year will now face significantly more stringent licensing and regulation standards, much stricter than most other medical facilities. Pro-choice advocates have argued the new building codes and other requirements could shut down many clinics. Which, of course, is likely the idea of the bill in the first place.
Another bill does away with a bunch of gun-free zones, allowing people with concealed weapons permits to carry said concealed weapons in schools, day cares, hospitals—just about everywhere. The law does, however, allow schools and private businesses to remain gun-free zones voluntarily. The bill was passed before the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but there’s little indication that changes the calculus for gun-rights advocates. Steve Dulan, who heads the Michigan Coalition of Responsible Gun Owners, told the Petoskey News the measure would offer more protection from such shootings. “If you have pistol free zones they are actually mass murderer empowerment zones,” he said. Similar measures have been passed around the country, advocated by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), with the idea being that an armed citizen might be able to take down a shooter. Some public safety officials, however, have pointed out that more guns can complicate the situation for law enforcement. When both are armed, it’s hard to tell the murderers from the do-gooders.
There’s more of course. One measure would require voters to declare their citizenship before they can cast a ballot. Another makes recalling elected officials more difficult by shortening the number of days during which signatures could be collected from 90 to 60.
The bills now go to Republican Governor Rick Snyder. Earlier this year, Snyder made headlines when he vetoed a voter-ID bill, bucking his party because, in his own words, “the right to vote is precious.” But there’s little indication he’ll be pushing back against fellow Republicans this time around. He already signed right-to-work legislation into law last Tuesday, which he previously didn’t support. The new law strikes a blow to unions in a state where they once commanded tremendous power, and now puts Michigan in the same category with states in the South and plains, where workers have had considerably less power.
It used to be that parties in each state had unique identities and different policy priorities. Republican parties in Midwestern manufacturing states looked different than those in the rural (and often more conservative) parts of the country. Now, as deep red states like Texas and Oklahoma start their legislative sessions in January, it seems, they can get some bill ideas from Michigan.
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, December 17, 2012
“I’m sorry,” said Representative Carolyn McCarthy, her voice breaking. “I’m having a really tough time.”
She’s the former nurse from Long Island who ran for Congress in 1996 as a crusader against gun violence after her husband and son were victims of a mass shooting on a commuter train. On Friday morning, McCarthy said, she began her day by giving an interview to a journalist who was writing a general story about “how victims feel when a tragedy happens.”
“And then 15 minutes later, a tragedy happens.”
McCarthy, whose husband died and son was critically wounded, is by now a practiced hand at speaking out when a deranged man with a lot of firepower runs amok. But the slaughter of 20 small children and seven adults in Connecticut left her choked up and speechless.
“I just don’t know what this country’s coming to. I don’t know who we are any more,” she said.
President Obama was overwhelmed as well, when he attempted to comfort the nation. It was his third such address in the wake of a soul-wrenching mass shooting. “They had their entire lives ahead of them,” he said, and he had trouble saying anything more.
It was, of course, a tragedy. Yet tragedies happen all the time. Terrible storms strike. Cars crash. Random violence occurs. As long as we’re human, we’ll never be invulnerable.
But when a gunman takes out kindergartners in a bucolic Connecticut suburb, three days after a gunman shot up a mall in Oregon, in the same year as fatal mass shootings in Minneapolis, in Tulsa, in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, in a theater in Colorado, a coffee bar in Seattle and a college in California — then we’re doing this to ourselves.
We know the story. The shooter is a man, usually a young man, often with a history of mental illness. Sometimes in a rage over a lost job, sometimes just completely unhinged. In the wake of the Newtown shootings, the air was full of experts discussing the importance of psychological counseling. “We need to look at what drives a crazy person to do these kind of actions,” said Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the House.
Every country has a sizable contingent of mentally ill citizens. We’re the one that gives them the technological power to play god.
This is all about guns — access to guns and the ever-increasing firepower of guns. Over the past few years we’ve seen one shooting after another in which the killer was wielding weapons holding 30, 50, 100 bullets. I’m tired of hearing fellow citizens argue that you need that kind of firepower because it’s a pain to reload when you’re shooting clay pigeons. Or that the founding fathers specifically wanted to make sure Americans retained their right to carry rifles capable of mowing down dozens of people in a couple of minutes.
Recently the Michigan House of Representatives passed and sent to the governor a bill that, among other things, makes it easy for people to carry concealed weapons in schools. After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday, a spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger said that it might have meant “the difference between life and death for many innocent bystanders.” This is a popular theory of civic self-defense that discounts endless evidence that in a sudden crisis, civilians with guns either fail to respond or respond by firing at the wrong target.
It was perhaps the second-most awful remark on one of the worst days in American history, coming up behind Mike Huckabee’s asking that since prayer is banned from public schools, “should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”
We will undoubtedly have arguments about whether tougher regulation on gun sales or extra bullet capacity would have made a difference in Connecticut. In a way it doesn’t matter. America needs to tackle gun violence because we need to redefine who we are. We have come to regard ourselves — and the world has come to regard us — as a country that’s so gun happy that the right to traffic freely in the most obscene quantities of weapons is regarded as far more precious than an American’s right to health care or a good education.
We have to make ourselves better. Otherwise, the story from Connecticut is too unspeakable to bear.
Nearly two years ago, after Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head in a mass shooting in Arizona, the White House sent up signals that Obama was preparing to do something. “I wouldn’t rule out that at some point the president talks about the issues surrounding gun violence,” said his press secretary at the time, Robert Gibbs.
On Friday, the president said: “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
Time passes. And here we are.
By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 14, 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