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Michigan Republicans Gear Up for Right to Work Legislation

Looks like someone’s going to have to construct more protest signs.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who previously said he would not take on the challenge of turning the home of the auto industry into a right to work state, now says it’s “on the agenda,” a passive statement that doesn’t actually make a determination as to whether he would support it.

Right to work laws, which ban mandatory union dues for workers covered by collective bargaining agreements, and which have the effect of decimating unions, recently made their first foray into the industrial Midwest, with passage in Indiana after a protracted fight that included Democrats walking out of the legislative chamber to deny Republicans a quorum. But Michigan, where 18% of the work force remains unionized, would be a heavier lift. Of course, that 18% represents a significant decline relative to the past.

Michigan unions tried to pass a ballot measure enshrining collective bargaining into the state constitution this November, an amendment that would have banned right to work. The measure failed, and this has clearly given the impetus to conservatives in the state to strike. It’s not clear that they have full support among the public for such a move, but they’re giving it a show anyway.

Republicans, who control the state legislature, have planned an 11 am ET news conference to announce the next steps. Snyder will appear at the briefing, along with the leaders in the state Assembly and state Senate. Votes could hit the legislative floor later today. This has the look of a full-court press. It could be that they want to get this done in the lame duck session with the cover of the holiday season and the prospect of a smaller majority next year.

Democrats are plotting their strategy:

Michigan Democrats — outnumbered in the state Legislature — said Wednesday they are willing to use all legal options available to try and stop Republicans from passing right-to-work legislation.

Those options could include both the legislative process and the court system. But Democrats did not immediately specify which options they might use […]

Democrats are the minority party in the Legislature. Republicans hold a 26-12 edge in the Senate and a 64-46 advantage in the House.

Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills, who will be leader of House Democrats next year, said: “We’re considering all possible options that are within the bounds of the law.”

Democrats can procedurally slow down the legislation, but don’t have many of the same options afforded to the minority of the legislature in places like Wisconsin and Indiana.

Snyder may be trying to get unions to bargain with him, perhaps on wage or pension concessions, while using the club of right to work to get everyone to the table. Leaders from the UAW and the American Federation of Teachers have acknowledged talks.

The Michigan State Police increased their presence in the capitol in Lansing this week, perhaps anticipating some street action to fight right to work.

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David Dayen

David Dayen