LANSING (WWJ/AP) – The Republican leaders of the Michigan Senate and House planned to meet with Gov. Rick Snyder later Tuesday to discuss, among other things, whether to introduce right-to-work legislation limiting unions’ ability to collect fees from non-union workers.
Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville told The Associated Press that he doesn’t know whether or when such legislation would be introduced. But he said he, House Speaker Jase Bolger and Snyder have been discussing the contentious issue with other legislators and labor and business leaders.
“There are a lot of things to be considered … and we’re doing this work independently and coming together and comparing notes. And we’re hopeful that the three of us will come to a conclusion together – the united conclusion – as to what’s best. But it’s not a foregone conclusion that we’ll all be united.”
Michigan voters rejected a ballot proposal last month that would have enshrined collective bargaining rights in the state Constitution and banned right-to-work laws. Union leaders feared the legislative right-to-work push if the ballot proposal failed, following the path of nearby states. Wisconsin recently stripped public employees of collective bargaining rights and Indiana approved right-to-work legislation.
The issue typically finds favor with Republicans but it’s politically dicey in a state with such long and strong ties to labor unions. Even as its ranks have shrunk in recent decades, more than 18 percent of Michigan’s workforce is unionized. Even as Snyder kept right-to-work at arm’s length, unions were disenchanted after he signed the emergency manager law allowing for the dissolution of labor contracts and led the effort to repeal it on another ballot referendum.
Right after the election, Bolger said he was ready to put right-to-work on the table. Bolger’s spokesman Ari Adler said the House speaker long supported the idea but refrained from discussing it out of respect for Snyder, who has repeatedly said taking such action is not on his agenda but also declines to say whether he would sign such a bill.
“Speaker Bolger is ready to have and finish that debate,” Adler said.
Richardville said the issue had not been a priority for him or fellow Senate Republicans until the rejection of the collective bargaining proposal. Lawmakers also are driven by the so-called lame duck session, he said, which ends this month and any bills that have been introduced but not voted on expire.
“Now that the debate’s been open … we have to look at it in a comprehensive way,” he said. “And my main charge is we want to be prepared to do whatever it is we do.”
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has announced its support for such legislation, and backers and critics were lobbying Tuesday at the Capitol.
The corridor outside the Senate chamber was packed with activists. On the Capitol’s lawn, the conservative interest group Americans for Prosperity pitched a large white tent on the Capitol grounds where hats, T-shirts and pamphlets were available.
Scott Hagerstrom, director of the group’s Michigan chapter, said he had worked in Lansing for two decades, mostly as a legislative staffer. “I would say this is probably the most intense pressure they’ve been under of anything that’s come up since I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s a real pressure cooker.”
“What we want is a vote,” Hagerstrom said. “We want a recorded vote to see where our legislators stand. It’s a very important issue that’s been talked about for many years and I think the people of Michigan deserve to see where their legislators stand.”
Jay McMurran, a spokeswoman for the United Steelworkers district that represents Michigan and Wisconsin, said there’s no evidence that such legislation creates jobs. He said it would succeed mainly in weakening unions and perpetuating a “race to the bottom.”
“We’re (talking) to all of our representatives, Democrats and Republicans, to push their leadership not to bring it to the floor – and if it does, to vote no on it,” McMurran said.
Under right-to-work laws, workers covered by union contracts aren’t required to join unions or pay dues. Michigan has the fifth-highest percentage of unionized workers in the U.S., with nearly 18 percent of the state’s workers belonging to a union.
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