By Steve Gunn
LANSING, Mich. – On Wednesday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder dropped his longstanding opposition and told reporters that a Right to Work bill might be on the legislative agenda, after all.
But he didn’t say it was definite, and he didn’t say when it might happen.
Then it all happened Thursday.
Acting with lightning speed, the Michigan House and Senate each passed the Workplace Equity and Fairness Act, which if signed by Snyder would make the Great Lake State the 24th in the nation to adopt Right to Work legislation.
The bill would give individuals the simple freedom to accept a job at a union shop without joining the union. Under current law employees are forced to join the union, or at least pay fees nearly equivalent to union dues, if they want to remain on the payroll.
The Washington Times predicted that the legislative action was “setting up what could be an epic fight watched by union and management supporters nationwide.”
Actually the fight has already begun. About 3,000 union protesters flooded the capitol grounds and Senate chamber Thursday, prompting police to apply chemical spray on several occasions and arrest eight unruly protesters, according to the Washington Times report.
One man was taken out of the Senate chamber yelling “Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! That’s what you people are!” By midafternoon police blocked entry to the capitol building, a move which prevented several key state labor leaders from entering.
Democrats in the Senate staged a walkout after the bill passed that chamber by a 22-16 margin. The House passed the same bill 58-52.
“Speaker (Jase) Bolger and Senator (majority leader) Randy Richardville have taken the unprecedented and shameful step of closing the Capitol building to Michigan citizens, pepper spraying and arresting people who are attempting to exercise their right to free speech,” the Michigan Democratic Party wrote in a prepared statement.
Oddly, the Michigan Association of School Boards and the Michigan Association of School Administrators, who might be expected to welcome the opportunity to minimize the distraction of collective bargaining in public schools, both came out against the measure, explaining that it would “send the wrong message to families.”
What would be the right message? That it’s okay to force people to join organizations against their will as a condition of employment? What decent or fair-minded person (or organization) would take such a position?
One honest assessment came from Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers. He admitted that many of his union members would take advantage of the law, quit the union and halt dues payments, which would in effect kill the union, according to Detroit.CBSlocal.com.
That leads to one obvious question: If the only way to hold a union like the DFT together is through forced membership, why does it exist in the first place? Unions should be voluntary organizations, comprised of workers who join together in solidarity to fight for common goals. But forced solidarity is not solidarity at all.
Many people do not want to belong to these unions, as evidenced in Wisconsin when one-third of the members of that state’s largest teachers union resigned when the state gave them the chance.
Michigan lawmakers have not taken a radical step at all. Public and private sector unions will still have full collective bargaining power. The only difference is that their clout will depend on their ability to keep their members voluntarily in the fold.
That change will give everyday union members more leverage over leadership that until now could take the captive rank-and-file completely for granted.