• December 14, 2012

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) despite a massive outcry of protestors at the state capitol in Lansing signed a so-called “right-to-work” bill into law. And just like in neighboring Indiana, right to work passed despite a massive outcry, and Michigan joined 23 other states that have passed such legislation in a seeming race to the bottom for the benefit of corporations that have made massive political donations to the Republican proponents of these bills.

    So what is “right to work,” and why are so many Republican officials making it a legislative priority? Put simply, right-to-work legislation prohibits agreements that require employees of a firm to maintain union membership as a condition of employment, allowing workers who choose to do so the right to “work through a strike.” The problem with this is that federal law requires unions to bargain for a contract that benefits all workers, regardless of whether they become members of the union. And, unions are founded on the premise of collective action, when individuals can take advantage of the benefits that unions win in contracts without having to pay their fair share in dues; it creates a massive free-rider problem that undermines the purposes, and ultimately the benefits that a union provides. For that reason, the AFL-CIO calls this kind of legislation a “right to work for less [pay/benefits]” law.

  • September 21, 2012
    Guest Post

    By J. Chris Sanders, General Counsel, United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 227

    Michigan voters will have the opportunity to defeat so-called “right-to-work”in November, and ensure that Michigan workers will have constitutional rights on the job far above current federal law.

    What is "right-to-work"? In short, big trouble for working people, a law that, as Martin Luther King said, guarantees neither rights nor work.

    A little background: Right-to-work is a provision in the National Labor Relations Act. The trouble comes from the NLRA's weak constitutional underpinning. The NLRA is founded upon the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause, affording the federal government the power to enact statutes and take other actions to regulate commerce. Unlike many countries, U.S. labor rights to organize and bargain collectively are not deemed fundamental. In other countries, these rights are founded upon those of freedom of speech, association, and assembly, but not in the U.S.  Here, it's just about commerce, meaning business.

    Right-to-work is all about business. The federal NLRA permits states to enact laws that keep unions weak and wages low. It requires labor unions, which are membership organizations, to bargain for and represent employees who choose not to be members for free, thereby weakening those unions and driving down wages.

  • June 22, 2011

    Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder successfully pushed through the state legislature a wildly unpopular measure, dubbed Public Act 4, this spring that gives power to “Emergency Managers,” to essentially take over entire local governments and wipe out any union contracts all in the name of supposedly restoring financial stability.

    Today, as noted by Daily Kos’s Eclectablog, 28 Michigan residents represented by public interest groups lodged a lawsuit in Ingham County Circuit Court on the grounds that it is a constitutionally flawed law. (The complaint is available at A2Politico.com.) The measure signed into law by Snyder (pictured), prompted massive protests at the state capitol.

    Eclectablog notes that the plaintiffs’ lawsuit charges that the law violates several provisions of the Michigan Constitution, including “the rights of local voters by delegating law-making power and the power to adopt local acts to unelected emergency managers, by suspending the rights of local electors to establish charters and to elect local officials, and by imposing substantial new costs and expenses upon local municipalities without providing new revenue.”

    Bill Goodman, an attorney for the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice, one of the groups representing the Michigan residents, told the Detroit Free Press, “This law violates one of the basic principles of democracy, where people get to vote and no one can impose a dictator on them. That is what this legislation does. It’s a power grab by Lansing politicians that’s going to affect communities across the state.  

    Attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights, The Sanders Law Firm, Miller Cohen PLC, and Goodman & Hurwitz PC are also involved in representing the Michigan plaintiffs.

    Darius Charney, staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “The emergency manager law is abuse of executive power at the state, as opposed to federal level. It’s another example of how, throughout the country, working people and communities of color are being blamed for, and forced to bear the burden of the economic downturn that was caused by Wall Street and corporate interests.”  

    As Eclectablog notes, the lawsuit is not the only challenge to Snyder’s law. Michigan Forward has launched a petition drive to put the law before voters on the 2012 ballot.

  • March 17, 2011
    In an effort to fight a new Michigan law that gives Gov. Rick Snyder sweeping powers to nullify union contracts and fire elected officials, Democratic leaders in the state are pushing a proposed state constitutional amendment to secure collective bargaining rights for public and private workers.

    Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (pictured at a rally to protect rights of workers) told the Detroit Free Press that the proposed amendment is similar to ones in other states. In a March 17 press release announcing introduction of the amendment, Whitmer said the Michigan Constitution should guarantee the right of all workers to collectively bargain.

    State Sen. Bert Johnson, a supporter of the proposed amendment, said "Governor Snyder likes to talk about supporting the collective bargaining process, yet pushes through legislation that will strip away those rights from Michigan's workers one piece at a time. The thousands of workers that came to Lansing yesterday to voice their concerns deserve a clear answer from him on this issue.

    Daily Kos has coverage of the rally in Lansing that drew thousands, reporting that "UAW President Bob King told the huge crowd that all over the country we are seeing an unbelievable attack on democracy and that ‘nowhere is that more clear than what we are seeing in Michigan.'"

    Earlier this week, ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson commented on the situations in Michigan and Wisconsin, saying the states are being led by lawmakers seemingly intent on undermining democracy in their states. Yesterday, The New York Times reported on Ohio Gov. John Kasich's budget plan that would also greatly diminish public sector jobs in that state.

    Mich. Sen. Whitmer said the proposed constitutional amendment is not "complex policy requiring weeks of review, it is one sentence that guarantees a fundamental right to our workers."

  • March 15, 2011
    The Wisconsin governor is not the only governor taking protest-provoking actions to slash the pay and working rights of public employees. In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder is pushing a measure that critics say will allow him to dissolve unions and local governments.

    MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," as noted in this Daily Kos blog post by Joan McCarter, recently reported that Gov. Snyder (pictured) is pushing a law that "gives the state government the power not only to break up unions, but to dissolve entire local governments and place appointed ‘Emergency Managers' in their stead. But that's not all - whole cities could be eliminated if Emergency Managers and the governor choose to do so. And Snyder can fire elected officials unilaterally, without any input from voters. It doesn't get much more anti-Democratic than that."

    The Detroit Free Press reports that additional rallies are planned at the capitol to "protest Gov. Rick Snyder's budget and tax plans."

    Steve Reck, a Service Employees International Union political director in Lansing, said state lawmakers were "exploiting the budget crisis to attack seniors, workers rights and ordinary families across the state."

    ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson in a statement to ACSblog said Michigan, like Wisconsin, was being led by lawmakers seemingly bent on using any means possible to undermine democracy in their states.

    "Gov. Snyder's radical proposal would greatly hobble local governments, and undercut workers' rights," Fredrickson said. "What's going on in Wisconsin is disconcerting, but we cannot afford to overlook the outrageous steps the Michigan governor is attempting to take to undermine democracy, and the state's economy."

    Snyder continues to defend his plan, the Free Press notes, saying he was open to "tweaks and tuning" of it.

    McCarter, the Daily Kos blogger, writes that "Snyder's own budget will so starve cities that he can create the fiscal emergency in them that will allow him to declare the emergency and seize control. But that's just the beginning. His budget's tax plan slashes corporate taxes by 81 percent, and hikes taxes on the working poor."

    The AFL-CIO has weighed in on the matter saying in a March 15 statement that "corporate-backed politicians are clearly gunning for working people in every state across the country."

    The statement continued, "In a brazen new low, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is on track to sign a new law under the guise of fiscal responsibility that will allow him to appoint emergency fiscal managers with powers so expansive they could ‘fire local officials, break contracts, seize and sell assets, eliminate services - and even eliminate whole cities or school districts without any public input,' according to CBS."

    The AFL-CIO also highlights actions by governors and lawmakers in other states aimed at slashing pay and rights of workers.