Prominent voices berate Michigan’s “right-to-work”


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.

Reader Comments

  1. We here in Texas have “right to work” coupled with a couple of teacher unions (TSTA, ATPE) that are subsidiaries of the NEA. What the unions do is (I think) provide legal counsel in case of unfair termination or grievance, promote an education agenda to state legislators, and provide discount cards for local services and businesses. They do NOT negotiate pay scales or anything of the sort.

    THIS is the kind of union that works for Texas, and what it meant a couple years ago is that we lost much FEWER jobs than many of the union-dominated states did. Michigan now has an option that is still stronger than a state like Texas’ – mainly, join a powerful union or not – while giving Michigonians the freedom of choice to do what they want in regards to their employment. If Michigan public school employees so choose, not ONE union teacher need leave the union! Not ONE teacher will have to go it without union representation if they so choose! RIGHT to work…RIGHT to choose…

    …this is the liberal agenda, yes? Pro-choice teachers should be ECSTATIC over this! The party of same-sex marriage, right to terminate life if the woman desires it…should be AGOG over the passage of this act. I mean, it’s about CHOICE for the worker! So, who’s with me? Are you a bunch of hypocrites who speak out of both sides of your mouth, or do you welcome the chance for Michigan teachers to FINALLY CHOOSE what they want to do vis a vis their employment?

    Thought so. 😉

    1. Unions are the new target of a malicious right wing think tank attack’s power grab, led by the likes of Karl Rove, The Heritage Foundation, and Americans for Prosperity, and the Koch Bros. that would turn America the Beautiful, land of opportunity, into a mere Plutocracy, replacing the middle class lifestyle with one of austerity so they can lay claim to it ALL! Plus, if you take out the Unions, you take away their traditionally one sided financial support for the Democratic National Committee. Then, the GOP would have practically no opposition on the air waves to spread their lies and propaganda.
      I believe a USA middle class working stiff with a decent pay and some disposable income will use that disposable income to buy, buy, buy. THAT is the demand side of the “supply and demand” formula in economics 101. 30 years of Supply-side, trickle-down economics hasn’t worked. Some say the Unions over-reached, but I could find few instances where a corporation’s management teams’ exorbitant compensation packages (CEOs, Board of Directors, Board of Trustees, executives, hired experts, marketing teams, department managers, and sales teams) didn’t contribute mightily to those corporation’s demise with their top-heavy wages and compensation packages. Some off the top examples:
      Exhibit #1: US Steel- When faced with decisions to re-tool and update outdated methods and equipment that were left go for far too long, at a time when Japan was dumping cheap steel in the USA at a price they couldn’t even make it at, just to get a foot in the door of the world’s biggest economy, they were also facing labor disputes with the union, who was demanding that negotiations be conducted in good faith by having management open the books. Management knew what that would reveal, so they refused, and Unions refused their offer. Management had 3 choices:
      1. Open the books and deal in good faith; both management and labor take a shared hit. Didn’t happen.
      2. Pass the increase on to their stocks and stockholders would be forced to take a hit. That was out of the question.
      3. Pass the increase on to their product. Steel went under, management left with their golden parachutes, and stockholders with diversified stock options survived, but labor lost out like always.
      Exhibit #2: Hostess just went out of business. A quick study of that would show that Hostess was in bankruptcy in 2004, after which their workers made concessions in wages and benefits and during this most recent bout with bankruptcy, they’ve conceded another 8% in wages, and 32% in benefits. The real story of why Hostess failed come from (ready for this?) the Wall Street Journal, who always takes the side of commerce, (in this case a hedge fund firm that bought up Hostess) over people; they identified mismanagement including a CEO whose pay increased 300%, executives who received pay increases from 60% to 100%, and a decision to stop paying into workers’ pension funds which is now $160 million in arrears. So now the hedge fund firm is eying liquidating the company in a way that will further maximize profits for these investors (vulture capitalism).
      Exhibit #3: Saved the best for last- Sensata out of Freeport, Illinois made $500million profits in the last quarter of this year, but larger profit margins beckoned in China. Sensata wants to close its door in the USA, but insists that the USA workers also TRAIN their replacements the company will fly into the USA for their training. Priceless!
      Further, a condition that has contributed to our 30 year movement toward a Plutocracy is the trend within our major corporations that have entered, or are on the verge of entering the arena of the “globalists” or to use another term, the “multinational” corporations. They increasingly hire executives to run their companies from the ranks of those whose background is in business and finance. These executives have been trained in the corporate business models that have evolved and been perfected over decades that includes the lucrative trends depicted in graphs and charts showing the enormous short term profits from the offshoring model, and the lucrative trend of liquidating assets, spinning off whole departments, and fractionizing corporations with branches set up on foreign soil, with no concern for long term sustainability of their corporation and certainly no loyalty to their nation of origin or its populous. Years ago, the executives worked their way off the floor, into management, becoming familiar with the plant, its departments and their functions before he/she was given a position on the executive team, so they had a vested interest in the corporation’s longevity. Now the executives have learned from the perfected business models how to maximize profits for the shareholders, their training in finance taught them how to cook the books to maximize short term returns with less and less concern for the long term solvency of corporations or businesses that would yield a larger return for themselves and their shareholders through liquidation. Sadly, to compete for investors in this climate of maximizing returns for shareholders, small businesses that remain in the USA are cutting cost to the bone, applying downward pressure on worker’s wages, and are forced to liquidate a corporation to the highest bidder (enter vulture capitalism) so that they can turn the kinds of profits for their Wall Street investors before they go belly up, while the rest of America declines. Your ideas do nothing but contribute to this decline by blaming the victim of this debacle, and I believe, would speed the decline of the middle class, who, thanks to FTAs are now in competition for jobs with sweatshops abroad.

  2. I’m sorry, but I disagree. I think all states should be “right to work” states. I find it ridiculous that I am required to pay union dues, to a union that I choose not to be a member of. I think a vast majority of unions have lost their way, and are no longer working in the best interest of the people they are supposedly working for, instead are primarily interested in ensuring the union leadership gets their outrageous paychecks, and using my money to promote candidates that I oppose.

    The article states that the union has brought 20,000 jobs back to Michigan…If the unions had not strangled the Auto industry with ridiculous contracts, the jobs would not have been lost in the first place.

    1. 1. Unions don’t do. The word union means to join together to further the shared interest of all members. What that means is: You are the union and it is only as strong as all of its members. You want the union to do stuff for you as if you can’t do anything for yourself. Essentially, you have allowed yourself to become a fee payer and complain about what you aren’t getting.

      2. You are so ignorant about the democratic structure of your union that you think you have not say in how your money is spent. If you would get up off your butt and get involved you would find out that your union is one of the most democratic institutions in the world.

  3. Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) have granted our corporate CEOs and their stockholders access to sweatshops on foreign soil to cut the high wage middle class worker out of the picture with impunity (actually, loopholes, exemptions, credits, etc. written into the tax code, incentivize this offshoring model, introduced back in the 60s when our textile, garment, and shoe factorires left for S. America, then in the late 60s-70s, or toy, electronics, steel left for Japan, but were perfected by sharing graphs and charts in board rooms across the USA, by provideing subsidies to offset liabilities incurred in the cost of setting up factories offshore). Then, these same FTA’s, incessantly lobbied for since the 90’s, allow these cheap products to flood our shores daily in Maersks freighters, capable of hauling 2.2 million train car sized “containers” full of this crap, TARIFF FREE, to fleece a declining middle class even as it kicks these workers to the curb. Now, the “downward pressure” on wages exerted by Red China’s sweatshops ($1.36/hr. avg. wage), have the GOP eyeing the perfect opportunity to bust the Unions, and make lower wages the norm for the USA middle class..

    The great wage disparity that has occurred over the past 30 years has consolidated wealth at the top like we haven’t seen since the days of the Robber Barons a century ago. Maybe you think that there’s something wrong with a USA that promoted all of its citizens’ prosperity, but I don’t; it’s smart business. A middle class with disposable income will bolster retail sales and crank up the economy (this is if this increase actually boosts production in the USA and results in paychecks going into the pockets of USA workers like it used to do before the middle class was kicked to the curb for sweatshop labor on foreign soil.) Even so, during the past 30 years real output in the business sector grew by 140%. Real compensation per hour (includes wages, benefits, pensions, and health insurance) increased by only 38% for the middle class worker.

    Post WWII, 1947-1979 America shared equally in the increase in output. During those years the increase that the bottom 20% received was 116%, the top 20% got an increase of 99%, and the middle quintiles increased somewhere within that range.

    Then the world flipped! From 1980 to 2007 the rich took practically all the increase in income. Over those decades, the poor received only a 15% increase and the middle three quintiles got a 25% increase, while the top 20% got a 95% increase and the top 1% received a raise of close to 300%, and they were compensated fabulously before this trend began (Paul Heise, PhD, Economics).

    Consider Germany, a nation with its fiscal house in relative order. They impose a 19% tariff on imports to protect their industrial sector without so much as a raised eyebrow from the WTO. Plus this type of protection keeps their largely Unionized middle class wages high, which leads to a prosperous middle class with ample disposable income which is pumped back into the German economy contributing to a reasonable GDP. We don’t do that here, and it shows!

    I have come to the realization, after voting GOP for 30 years, that they will use deceptions like kicking the hornets’ nest of social issues including but not limited to: reproductive rights, Evangelical Christians, gun rights, homosexuality, color, sable rattling, and a myriad of alleged “personal freedoms,” and now “right to work” laws, all types of fear mongering and the use of practiced cries of panic and outrage to divert their base’s attention away from the fact that their first and only true love is to the top, who are using their influence in our legislature to turn American the Beautiful, land of opportunity, into a mere Plutocracy. They have pitted us, one against another with this fear mongering, fanning the flames of our worst human instincts, inciting divisions along party lines, socio-economic lines, and racial lines to keep their base’s attention diverted from the fact that they serve only the top. When this can no longer be denied, the GOP will be in big trouble with the electorate, because they will feel used like yesterday’s newspaper and “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” or an electorate that realizes they’ve been used to craft their own demise.

    1. Oh, so you voted GOP for 30 years? Most Republicans say we vote Republican. Most Democrats say they vote Democrat. A Republican masquerading as a Democrat will say they voted Liberal for 30 years. A Democrat masquerading as a Republican will say they voted GOP for 30 years.

      If you voted “GOP” for 30 years and just now realized that you don’t agree with how you have been used “to craft your own demise”, then you are either incredibly out of touch with the party you purportedly were voting for, or are a troll in sheep’s clothing 🙂 I’m gonna go ahead and guess, based on your excellent command of the English language and your reasoned tone, that it’s the latter.

    2. Sipdesip, you assume much, but I can tell you that as a born again Christian in an evangelical congregation, busy pouring my energy and attention into our wrestling team, attending three to four clinics each year, raising a family, and fully believing the edicts of organizations like Focus on the Family, Christian Coalition, PTL, Jerry Falwell, and the like, I’m feeling rather used, now that I have resigned from coaching wrestling and have taken time to look into the issues. Sorry if that disappoints you. Incidentally, I don’t believe you refuted the premise of my rant…

  4. Couldn’t agree more. I just hope that what these misleading laws will end up doing to the middle-class are realized before it is too late and that acts to reverse them can, and will, be taken.

  5. I agree. It is time to recall those that go against the will of the people. Notice they did not include Fire or police personnel. But I also want to remind people that these are the people you voted into office. To all those out there – be careful who you vote for. When the time comes for this all important recall, make sure you don’t lose sight of the recall in Wisconsin. You must do everything in your power to win.

  6. Nice to see the union brown shirts and their thuggery with their assault and battery, destruction of personal property and harming senior citizens are really helping the party.

    Jimmy Hoffa calling for civil war. I’m sure everyone wants to join this group. It’s like 1939 all over.

    1. Brownshirt, are you a Plutocrat, or one of those who have been a victim of this downward pressure on wages from “globalization?” If you are a middle class worker, you should be up in arms about this trend to turn the middle class back to the guilded age. What are your thoughts about my post above?

  7. Just one more reason that the so called peoples party, Republican is no longer the party of Lincoln, but the party of the corporations. GOP = Greedy Old Politicians. They are not concerned about serving the people that voted them in and who “they” represent but the serve those that fill their political coffers. It is time to recall Synder and the rest of his tea party mob and get some one who will really represent the people of Michigan.

    1. The republican party is still the party of Lincoln. Just as Lincoln freed the slaves, Republicans are freeing teachers from corrupt union bosses that usually know nothing about teaching. I am a college educated individual that is perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I have seen multiple examples of our teachers union retaining poor teachers from being removed from the classroom and the great teachers are prevented from getting promoted faster. The Freedom to work bill has been long overdue in Michigan.

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