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Michigan House Gives Final Approval on Right to Work

Despite large protests and thousands of demonstrators, lawmakers in Michigan, as expected, granted final approval to right to work legislation, which will ban closed shop unions and allow workers to opt out of union dues despite having their employment covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

The first of two bills, which installs right to work for public employees, passed the state House 58-51, having already passed the state Senate. Another bill, which would cover private employees, should pass the House later today. Seeing that Democrats picked up 5 House members in the November elections, and that all of the current Democrats voted against right to work, the legislation would have failed if it was not taken up in the lame duck session with the legislature elected in 2010.

The scene in Lansing was reminiscent of Madison, Wisconsin in early 2011, albeit under different circumstances. There, Democratic lawmakers had walked out of the state, denying a quorum for a vote on controversial anti-union legislation that would limit collective bargaining. But Michigan has no such measure in its legislative rules, and so Democrats could only slow down but not stop the legislation from passing. Over 10,000 protesters nonetheless marched against right to work today in the capital. Three school districts closed because so many teachers went out to protest.

Governor Rick Snyder can now choose to sign the bills or veto them, and since he orchestrated this entire sneak attack, signage is virtually assured. However, labor leaders have pointed out that they can still try to overturn the legislation at the ballot, through a signature-gathering process. The law would in all likelihood go into effect in April 2013, and that ballot measure would not be put before voters until November 2014, however, meaning over a year and a half of operating under the anti-union environment, which will starve labor of funds that they would need to fight out right to work in a campaign.

Statewide Democrats and even the President have criticized right to work as divisive and anti-worker legislation.

Michigan will become the 24th state in America to enact right to work legislation. In almost every case, this has significantly lowered union density, and as a result, wages. This is why labor leaders usually call it “right to work for less.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen