By Kristen M. Daum
With a few strokes of his pen in a private office away from the chorus of protesters outside,
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder made Michigan — perceived by many to be the birthplace of
modern organized labor in the U.S. — the 24th state with right-to-work laws.
Snyder signed the two historic bills just after 5 p.m. Tuesday, a few hours after the state
House approved the controversial legislation that makes it illegal to require public and
private workers to pay union dues or join a union as a condition of employment.
“This is in the best interest of Michiganders,” Snyder said during a news conference Tuesday evening. “I don’t go to
blame. I’m not into credit. I’m simply here to solve problems and I think this was a good solution.”
Snyder said labor unions forced the right-to-work issue to the forefront because they sought to enshrine collective
bargaining in the Michigan Constitution.
That measure was rejected by voters in the Nov. 6 general election.
“I don’t believe we would’ve been standing here in this time frame if it wasn’t for Proposal 2 moving ahead,” Snyder said.
Ever since Election Day, legislative Republicans said they wanted to pass right-to-work legislation during the lame-duck session, but no formal bills were brought forward until Thursday.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 17 percent of Michigan’s workforce is associated with a union.
For two years, Snyder had said right to work was not on his agenda. On Tuesday, Snyder said he wanted to be a leader on the issue since others put it on the table.
“I took a position that I thought was appropriate,” Snyder said. “This isn’t anti-union. I hope it gives the unions an opportunity to be more successful.”
The right-to-work laws will take effect 90 days after this legislative session ends, or sometime next spring. However, the impact possibly will be felt over several years as labor contracts come up for renewal.
Snyder said the new labor laws should create jobs and encourage more accountability from unions.
However, Democrats and unions say it could lead to lower wages, fewer jobs and less influence for organized labor at the bargaining table.
Snyder signed the bills into law after hours of fervent objections Tuesday from Democratic lawmakers and a crowd of 12,500 — many of them protesters — who descended on the Capitol grounds in downtown Lansing.
While demonstrations raged outside, business went on as usual for the most part inside the Michigan House.
Only a few minor outbursts from onlookers in the House gallery disrupted the legislative proceedings, as the Republican-led chamber took three hours to debate and cast final votes on the two right-to-work bills.
About two dozen Democrats delivered passionate — but futile — speeches in an attempt to stop the legislation from passing.
“We’re going to pass something that will undo 100 years of labor relations. There will be blood. There will be repercussions,” said Rep. Doug Geiss, D-Taylor, before votes were taken.
About 10 Republicans rebutted those speeches with oratory of their own, citing the benefits right to work could have in Michigan.
“This is the day when Michigan freed its workers,” said Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto.
Each bill was debated for 90 minutes before the final vote.
The bills passed 58-51 and 58-52. Rep. Jimmy Womack, D-Detroit, was absent for the first vote. Six Republicans broke partisan ranks and voted against both bills.
Because the Senate already gave approval to both bills Thursday, the legislation was routed fairly quickly to Snyder’s desk Tuesday afternoon, but not before a procedural delay in the House, which was driven by partisan politics.
Following the final vote on the second bill, House Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas, R-Midland, asked to have the vote reconsidered, which meant it could have been taken up again today.
House Democrats said the motion was only a political move to halt Democratic objections.
“It’s more parliamentary tricks,” House Democratic spokeswoman Katie Carey said.
Stamas had no comment on the Democrats’ claims. But sometime during the afternoon, Stamas withdrew his
motion in writing without alerting the chamber.
When the Republicans sought to adjourn at just after 5 p.m., Democrats objected, inquired about Stamas’ motion and learned then he’d withdrawn it.
By then though, House and Senate clerks had already reported the bills to the governor’s office and Snyder had signed them into law.
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HOW THEY VOTED
» House Bill 4003, which grants right to work for public-sector workers, was approved, 58-51. Rep. Jimmy Womack, D-Detroit, was absent.
» Senate Bill 116, which applies to private-sector workers, passed 58-52.
» Six Republicans broke partisan ranks and voted against both bills: Reps. Anthony Forlini, R-Harrison Twp.; Ken Goike, R-Ray; Ken Horn, RFrankenmuth; Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan; Patrick Somerville, R-New Boston; and Dale Zorn, R-Ida.
» Lansing’s Capitol Caucus fell along party lines in casting their votes on
the right-to-work bills.