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“Desecration Of Michigan’s Heritage”: Republicans Ambush Labor In Michigan

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

December 20, 2012 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Unions | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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