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Stateside: The politics behind right-to-work

user "Dmitri" Beljan
By law in Michigan, workers in unionized work places are required to pay union dues. There's an option to not be part of the union, but an "agency fee" still has to be paid. That covers the cost of the union's collective bargaining and grievance handling.

Governor Snyder announced today that right-to-work bills will be placed in the state’s Legislature.

This means that union membership would be voluntary in Michigan.

"Stateside with Cynthia Canty" Executive Producer Zoe Clark and MPRN’s Rick Pluta discussed the politics behind this issue.

Here is what they had to say:

Cyndy Canty: What is the mood right now?

Rick Pluta: Right now you can hear the people around me, yelling “let them in,” because the building managers have closed off access to the building. The legislative Democrats say they have gone to court to get an order to have the capitol reopened.

Canty: I have heard reports of tear gas being used.

Pluta: Not tear gas, but pepper spray was used to subdue some of the protestors who basically charged the State Troopers who were guarding the State Senate. I have heard four people may have been charged with disorderly conduct.

Canty: What’s behind all this?

Zoe Clark: Obviously, what happened was it got brought onto his agenda and this morning the governor came out with Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and with the House Speaker Jase Bolger and said they are introducing this legislation.

Canty: Is this a matter of Democrats versus Republicans?

Pluta: It’s largely Democrat versus Republican. Unions are a core part of the Democratic coalition so Democrats have said they will do everything they can legally do to stop this from happening. They’re talking about targeting vulnerable Republicans for recall. This will probably be immune to a referendum but that doesn’t mean that unions couldn’t go to the ballots to try to initiate a law to try to repeal right-to-work.

Clark: What you’re seeing here is the Republicans who tend to be farther to the right are getting their way. It’s not just right-to-work that we’re seeing them get their way. There are a couple of other controversial issues right now that Republicans, because they’re in the majority, are able to push through.

Pluta: There was almost this East/West divide where West Michigan Republicans were really gung-ho on getting right-to-work, whereas Southeast Michigan people were more sanguine about it. Unions actually thought that, at the very least, they had a friend in Rick Snyder. Today, needless to say, they’re mad about that.

Canty: What will Snyder get in return?

Clark: What we’re seeing with the governor, when his fellow Republicans put it on his desk, he signs it. One interesting thing to note is these aren’t things that are just happening in rooms by themselves. These are all working together. In terms of lawmakers, what’s going on are these mechanics of people saying, “What am I going to get out of this?”

Pluta: For conservative Republicans, they’re coming across and saying, “If we can make this happen, maybe we would vote for things that we before wouldn’t be supportive of.” But it really seems that it was Governor Snyder who was trying to cut the best deal he could once it became evident that right-to-work had reached critical mass.

Canty: What price will Snyder pay?

Clark: The price to pay is less now. The price would have been bigger once there’s a new legislative session. The next election, November 2014, the entire House, the Senate, the Governor- everyone is up for re-election. These people are already looking ahead. Let’s remember that in lame-duck session there are plenty of legislators who are voting in their last session.

Pluta: In the next session there will be five fewer Republicans in the legislature. Right-to-work always presented a conundrum for Rick Snyder. To actively oppose it would put him crossways with the conservative wing of his party that really dominates a Republican primary. Now that right-to-work seems to be a reality, that’s going to complicate things for him post-primary season going into the general election where the general public is not as embracing of right-to-work.

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