Kristen M. Clark

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House passes right-to-work

for public sector workers

By Kristen M. Daum

kdaum@lsj.com

 

A bill granting right-to-work for public-sector workers in Michigan is headed to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's desk, despite Democrats' objections.

 

The Michigan House voted, 58-51, today to pass House Bill 4003, one of two right-to-work bills before the Legislature.

 

Lawmakers will next take up Senate Bill 116, which would affect private-sector employees. The Senate already gave approval to both bills on Thursday.

 

"This is the day when Michigan freed its workers," Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, said before the final vote on HB 4003.

 

Some Republicans joined the unanimous Democratic bloc in opposing the House bill. Both of the right-to-work bills were expected to pass because of the Republican majority in the chamber. Republicans have a 64-46 advantage over Democrats.

 

Immediately after the vote ion HB 4003, Democratic floor leader Kate Segal, D-Battle Creek, attempted to have the vote reconsidered during the next day of the legislative session, which would cause a procedural delay, but her request was rejected by Republican leadership. Visitors in the gallery above the House floor clamored for a few minutes in protest, while a House clerk carried the results off the floor to transmit to Snyder's office.

 

Once Snyder signs the legislation, the new laws will take effect April 1, 2013. Snyder's spokespeople have not returned messages seeking comment on how soon he might sign the legislation and whether he'll do so in a public or private ceremony.

 

When enacted, Michigan will become the 24th state with right-to-work laws, which make it illegal to require employees to pay union dues or join a union as a condition of employment. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 17 percent of Michigan’s workforce s associated with a union.

 

House Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas, R-Midland, ordered a call of the House at 10:15 a.m., which required members to remain on the chamber floor until the order was lifted. After some procedural business, lawmakers began debating right-to-work at about 10:30 a.m. and cast their vote on the first bill about 90 minutes later at around noon.

 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, sought to remove a $1 million appropriation that’s included in each of the right-to-work bills. Under the state Constitution, bills with appropriations are immune from repeal through ballot referendum.

 

Democrats said the appropriation is unnecessary and is meant only to minimize dissent, but Republicans say the funding is needed to educate and inform the public about the forthcoming changes in Michigan’s labor law.

 

Tlaib’s amendment failed by a 47-61 vote. Four other amendments proposed by Democrats were also defeated.

 

“We’re going to pass something that will undo 100 years of labor relations. There will be blood. There will be repercussions,” Rep. Doug Geiss, D-Taylor, said in one of 13 opposition speeches Democrats gave before a final vote on HB 4003.

 

Outgoing Rep. Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, urged Snyder to veto the legislation. However, Snyder said last week that he’ll sign it.

 

“There is still time to do the right thing,” Bauer said. “I can’t believe the majority of members in this chamber voted for right-to-work and have the audacity to say it will help workers.”

 

Meanwhile, seven Republicans spoke on the House floor to urge passage of the first right-to-work bill, praising its benefits which they say include job growth, more freedom for workers and more accountability for unions.

 

“The basic rights of workers must be protected,” said Rep. Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, “Freedom-to-work should not be a divisive issue. It’s about empowering workers. …This is a fundamental change about values that should unite us, not divide us.”

 

Rep. Rick Olson, R-Saline, said right-to-work laws honor the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right of free association.

 

“It is the principle that people should not be forced to join a union or any organization if they do not wish to,” Olson said. “I see this as tough love for unions. …The unions will not be busted - and that’s not the intent of the bill - but they will need to make their case to the workers that they’re worth joining.”

 

Outside the House chamber, about 2,500 demonstrators crowded into the Capitol and about 10,000 people filled the Capitol lawn outside to protest the House vote.

 

At least 200 onlookers, most donning pro-union garb, observed lawmakers from the House gallery, which was full by 9 a.m. - an hour before the House convened its session today. The audience in the gallery remained quiet during the debate with only a few, relatively minor outbursts until after the vote.

 

Just outside the chamber doors, Michigan State Police troopers stood at least 10 deep guarding the Michigan House, including at least two troopers who were carrying about six canisters each filled with a mixture of tear gas and pepper spray.

 

Chants, cheers, pounding and other noise from the protests could be heard from within the House chamber as lawmakers took up the controversial legislation.

 

After days of speculation and back-door conversations between Snyder, Republican leaders and union stakeholders, Republicans first introduced three right-to-work bills Thursday afternoon. Both chambers gave them initial passage hours later that day without committee hearings and little debate on the House and Senate floors.

 

The House took up today the two bills the Senate passed on Thursday, House Bill 4003 (for public-sector employees) and Senate Bill 116 (for private sector-employees).

 

The third bill, House Bill 4054, which the House had passed, needs no further action because it's identical to SB 116.

12:16 p.m.  •  Dec. 11, 2012  •  LSJ.com

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