By Jeff Karoub, Associated Press
LANSING (AP) – A closed-door meeting between Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican legislative leaders failed to produce a clear direction on whether to introduce right-to-work legislation limiting unions’ ability to collect fees from non-union workers.
Snyder, who for months kept the divisive issue at arm’s length, told reporters after the meeting that it’s now on the agenda – at least for discussion – but wouldn’t say whether legislation would be taken up by year’s end. He met in the Capitol with Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, House Speaker Jase Bolger and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.
Of all the leaders, Bolger has long been a supporter of the legislation and pushed it harder after 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. Spokesman Ari Adler said Bolger is pleased to have the debate regardless of where it goes.
“Discussions continue on whether this is the right thing to do for Michigan and Michigan workers,” Adler said. “If we determine it’s the right thing and now is the right time, we will act.”
Clearly, union workers are wary and 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 is 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.
Despite Snyder’s earlier reticence to deal with it, 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.
Adler said the House speaker long supported the idea but refrained from discussing it out of respect for Snyder, who previously said taking such action was not on his agenda but declines to say whether he would sign such a bill.
“Early in the session, Gov. Snyder asked us to hold off on that discussion. … When the governor made the same request of the union by not pushing Proposal 2 forward, they ignored his request and insisted on opening the debate on right-to-work again,” Adler said. “Speaker Bolger is ready to have and finish that debate.”
Richardville told The Associated Press before the meeting that he doesn’t know whether or when such legislation would be introduced. But he said they 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.”
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.
Right-to-work proposals could become legislation in various ways. New bills could be introduced but they would have to sit for five calendar days in each chamber. Or they could be inserted into so-called vehicle bills that already exist and pertain to the same section of law, and those could move faster through the legislative process.
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 and offered hats, T-shirts and pamphlets.
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.
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