LANSING (WWJ/AP) – As rumors swirled Wednesday that Republicans were preparing to introduce right-to-work legislation, outnumbered Democrats in the Michigan House and Senate pledged to resist such proposals and said rushing them through would poison the state’s political atmosphere.
Tensions rose at the Capitol late in the afternoon as hundreds of union members packed into the rotunda area, blowing whistles and shouting slogans such as “Union buster” and “Right to work has got to go.” State police officers and staff security officers were on hand but the House and Senate sessions were not disrupted.
So-called “right-to-work” measures generally prohibit unions from collecting fees from non-union workers, which opponents say would drain unions of money and weaken their ability to bargain for good wages and benefits. Supporters insist it would boost the economy and job creation.
A defiant UAW leader Bob King says “right to work” is wrong for Michigan.
“We wanna state (where) everybody succeeds — not just the one percent, we want everybody,” King said at the rally. “We’re gonna to do whatever we have to do to move for justice in Michigan.”
King said he telling his members to voice their concerns — calling for a united, not divided, state. “If you look across the board, the statistics are irrefutable. Every right-to work state has lower wages, less health care, lower pensions — it hurts everbody in the state,” he said.
After saying repeatedly over the past two years that right-to-work wasn’t a priority for him, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder told reporters after a meeting with GOP legislative leaders Tuesday that it was “on the agenda.” No bills have surfaced, but many lawmakers and interest groups expect Republicans to push for quick approval in the waning days of a lame-duck session scheduled to end Dec. 20.
WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick said Wednesday’s rally had thinned out a bit by 6 p.m., but many in the crowd vowed to return shortly.
“What Mr. King told me, just moments ago — what he wants to hear from Governor Snyder is very clear: the governor saying I will veto right-to-work legislation. So far, steadfastly, the governor has absolutely refused to do that,” Skubick said.
“You have to take the protesters at their word; they will be back tomorrow— so will the Senate and the House — they will be back tomorrow for day three of this right-to-work drama, which refuses to go away,” he said.
Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, said there appears to be enough support from GOP members to gain passage, although he declined to provide a specific number of committed votes. Still, he said, there’s “nothing for legislators to look at” yet, only ideas of what such measures might look like.
Adler said Bolger, Snyder and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville are “in contact continuously” and seeking agreement on whether to proceed.
“There are layers of decisions that have to be made,” he said. “The first decision (is), `Do we go forward or not?’ Once you have that, the others will fall like dominoes.”
During a raucous Capitol news conference packed with union activists, Democratic leaders denounced right-to-work as a handout to corporate executives at the expense of workers. They said it was political retribution after organized labor unsuccessfully pushed a November ballot initiative that would have made such laws unconstitutional.
“They have launched an all-out war on the middle class in this state and it’s time we fought it back,” said Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills, who will be the House minority leader next year.
He said Republicans, who lost five seats in last month’s election, wanted to act quickly “because they know that a lot of their `yes’ votes on this do not have to face election again.”
Republicans have commanding majorities in both chambers – 64-46 in the House and 26-12 in the Senate. Under their rules, only a simple majority of members elected and serving must be present to have a quorum and conduct business. For that reason, Democrats acknowledged that boycotting sessions and going into hiding, as some lawmakers in neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin have done in recent years to block legislation unpopular with unions, would be futile in Michigan.
Still, they pledged to use all legal means to stop right-to-work. House Democrats already have begun withholding votes on some bills to show their displeasure.
“We’re going to fight and we’re going to make it as difficult as possible on them,” Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer said. “We’re going to look at every strategy we can.”
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