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Republicans vs. Teachers' Unions

Governor Rick Snyder has some intense opposition, but it hasn’t risen to the levels of protest against his two newly elected GOP neighbors and colleagues, Governors John Kasich in Ohio and Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

And there’s a reason for that. Snyder has been both politically smarter and less ideological than those men. He says he is interested in results, not in settling scores. He’s been pushing through reforms that haven’t made public employee unions happy.

But he says he is not interested in taking away the unions’  collective bargaining rights. Some of the more conservative Republicans in the legislature are trying to push so-called “right to work” legislation, which would outlaw union shops in Michigan.

But Snyder says he has no interest in that. Which, even if you are against unions, is very smart. Union membership and clout have been declining for years. They now represent barely seven percent of workers in the private sector.

Trying to outlaw the union shop, however, might be the best way to rally support for the unions. Certainly it would galvanize their membership and send all sorts of national figures into Michigan to lead major protests and support their cause.

Based on what we’ve seen in Wisconsin and Ohio, it may even lead many people to support unions who have been apathetic or negative before. So Snyder hasn’t gone there, and he’s winning.

But his fellow Republicans in the legislature may be about to sabotage his efforts. Yesterday, a House committee voted to ban school districts from deducting union dues from teachers’ paychecks.

This is a bill plainly designed to punish teachers, and especially their unions, principally, the Michigan Education Association, or MEA, and the American Federation of Teachers. Republicans hate these unions, partly because they give large sums to candidates they support, nearly all of whom are Democrats. They were also instrumental in getting House Education Committee Chair Paul Scott’s recall on the November ballot.

Republicans want to weaken the MEA’s financial clout, and probably have the votes to get this bill through both houses of the legislature.

But it may have unintended consequences. As Timothy Bledsoe, a moderate Democrat from Grosse Pointe noted, withholding dues is something traditionally negotiated at the local level. Republicans usually claim to be against taking local control away. Plus, for an employer to withhold dues and send them to the union is common practice in the private sector.

This is happening at the same time that Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville is supporting a bill mandating a form of right-to-work for teachers, under which they would no longer be forced to join a union or pay dues to one. Combined, these efforts are almost certain to stir up massive opposition.

Governor Snyder plainly wishes this wasn’t happening. He said again yesterday that this wasn’t on his agenda. The question is, what does he do if and when these bills reach his desk?

Signing them may give his opponents an immense rallying point. But vetoing them would anger part of his base.

When I talked with the governor recently, he mentioned that he had a very consuming job that involved constant tough calls.

This issue might just turn out to be the toughest of all.

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