Last night Republican legislators backed by the Koch brothers delivered a harsh blow to the union heartland of Michigan. Right-to-work legislation was pushed through both the state House and Senate by Republican majorities, while powerless and furious protesters looked on.
It was a sneak move — GOP lawmakers only announced Thursday morning that they intended to enact the so-called right-to-work bill (aptly described by its opponents as the “no-rights-at-work” bill). Right-to-work laws ban requirements to pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment — studies have consistently shown that states with right-to-work laws have lower wages for union and non-union workers.
As a study by Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute found:
[O]ur findings — that “right-to-work” laws are associated with significantly lower wages and reduced chances of receiving employer-sponsored health insurance and pensions — are based on the most rigorous statistical analysis currently possible. These findings should discourage right-to-work policy initiatives. The fact is, while RTW legislation misleadingly sounds like a positive change in this weak economy, in reality the opportunity it gives workers is only that to work for lower wages and fewer benefits.
Yet the Koch brothers’ messaging machine was well-prepared to drown out any voices from the thousands of labor allies who rushed to the state capitol to decry the RTW push. As The Nation’s John Nichols noted:
As the Republicans launched the attack on unions and their members, Americans for Prosperity — a group developed and funded by right-wing industrialists and billionaire campaign donors Charles and David Koch — was in the thick of things. AFP recruited conservatives to show up at the state Capitol in Lansing to counter union protests and prepared materials supporting the Michigan initiative, including a fifteen-page booklet titled “Unions: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: How Forced Unionization Has Harmed Workers and Michigan.” Within minutes of the announcement by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder that Republicans would ram through the “Right-to-Work” legislation, AFP was hailing the move in formal statements “as the shot heard around the world for workplace freedom.”
The push through of RTW in Michigan could be a more serious, sinister blow to organized labor than even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s public worker union-busting legislation. As Nichols noted, the legislation in Michigan “goes much further than proposals advanced last year by Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio, which targeted public employees. Under the Michigan legislation, basic labor rights are stripped away from both public and private-sector workers.”
Gov. Snyder’s eleventh-hour change of heart on the issue has riled critics. As the AP reported, the Republican governor “had said repeatedly since his election two years ago that the topic was divisive and not on his agenda. Thursday morning, however, the governor called a news conference to announce that not only would right-to-work legislation be considered, it would be placed on a fast track. By sundown, bills had been introduced and passed without committee votes or public hearings.” Unlike in Wisconsin, “where votes to curb union rights followed weeks or months of pitched battles, Michigan acted in the blink of an eye. ”
There is some hope that the GOP’s sneak moves will end up preventing implementation of the law because “Michigan legislators bent the rules of their chambers to rush the law to Snyder’s desk,” according to Nichols. However, it seems a fait accompli that Michigan, a crucible of union activity, will become the twenty-fourth RTW state.
Meanwhile, Fox News has already declared the right-to-work results in Michigan a “victory for Capitalism,” once again trotting out the absurd suggestion that retrenched U.S. unions, a living wage and basic benefits constitute a socialist threat to capitalist hegemony.