by Colleen Flaherty
Gov. Rick Snyder undermined workers and hurt the middle class in Michigan Tuesday night by signing the misleadingly named “right-to-work” legislation into law, according to education and political leaders. Snyder went against the wishes of the majority of Michiganders after Republican legislators rammed the bill through the lame duck session, bypassing any public hearings or debate.
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Strong unions in Michigan have been a force in strengthening the middle class by bringing back more than 20,000 jobs while helping rescue the then-collapsing auto industry. In states with these so-called “right-to-work” laws, workers make an average of $1,500 less per year, 21 percent more people lack health insurance and workplace deaths are 51 percent higher than states without the law.
Educator and Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook spoke out in defense of Michigan workers who will be hurt by this new legislation.
“On average, workers in ‘right-to-work’ states have a lower standard of living, bring home less pay and go without health insurance more frequently. That hurts small businesses as consumer spending is reduced, causing a ripple effect that will further hurt Michigan’s economy,” said Cook.
“As we have seen in other states like Ohio and Wisconsin, everyone gets hurt when politicians put their agendas ahead of the people who elected them. Instead of distractions that silence the voices of workers, our elected leaders should focus on finding ways to create more jobs, help struggling families and get our state’s economy moving again.”
Longtime high school math teacher and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel addressed the true intent of the law, which is to serve out-of-state and corporate interests at the expense of workers’ rights.
“Passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in less than a week during ‘lame duck’ session with no public hearings, the law unfairly tips the scales against hardworking Michiganders because it’s designed to give corporate CEOs such as the Koch brothers even more power at the expense of those who teach our children, protect our communities, keep us healthy, and build our roads and vehicles.
“Instead of focusing on what voters elected him to do—to create jobs and get the state’s economy going — Gov. Snyder is tearing the state apart with his divisive political tactics aimed at silencing the voices of hardworking families.”
Michigan’s U.S. senators, Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, both spoke out against “right-to-work” and Snyder’s actions. Snyder had until recently said the bill “was not on his agenda.”
“Today in Michigan, business and labor work extremely well together. When the auto industry had problems the [United Auto Workers union] stepped in. They cut starting wages in half, they assumed responsibility for retiree health care and were a huge part of making sure we had an American automobile industry,” said Stabenow.
“Right now, under collective bargaining agreements, whether you join the union or not, if you benefit from collective bargaining, you contribute,” said Stabenow. “This would say you could benefit, but you wouldn’t have to contribute, so this is all about undercutting labor and the resources that they have.”
Levin said, “The governor’s reversal and his misleading language aren’t about workers. It’s about politics. It is deeply unfortunate that the governor has put politics ahead of the collective bargaining rights of Michigan workers.”
U.S. House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi condemned Snyder’s divisive politics.
Too many families continue to face daunting economic challenges. This is no time to engage in a debilitating assault on the hard-working men and women who educate our children, build our roads, keep our neighborhoods safe, and preserve the health of our communities.
Governor Snyder has said that his goal is unity; yet his actions only divide his constituents. He said earlier this year that this legislation was inappropriate for Michigan; he was right then, and he is wrong now. Rather than attack workers, it’s time for the governor to work across the aisle to create jobs, protect working families, and strengthen the middle class – the backbone of our country.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged politicians and labor in Michigan to come together to fight for worker’s rights and build the economy.
“Elected officials, labor leaders and business leaders can and should work towards the common goals of job creation, improving our economy and strengthening middle-class families. But this partisan power grab is a setback to prospects for compromise.”
President Barack Obama derided the bill while speaking at a Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Michigan before a crowd of workers.
“What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions,” said Obama.
“You know, these so-called right-to-work laws, they don’t have to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”
Michigan workers held silent protests today against “right-to-work” in cities across the state of Michigan.