Following Gov. Rick Snyder’s endorsement of a right-to-work law earlier in the day, the State House and Senate both passed right-to-work legislation Thursday evening to much controversy.
House Bill 4054 passed in a 58-52 vote and would allow private sector employees to opt out of paying union dues as an employment condition. The Senate passed its own version of that bill, and also passed a bill that affects all public employees except firefighters and police by 22-16 and 22-4 votes, respectively.
“An individual shall not be required as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment to … pay and dues, fees, assessments or other charges or expenses of any kind … or provide anything of value to a labor organization,” the House bill reads in part.
It contains a provision that would make it impossible to repeal with a referendum, according to state Rep. Vicki Barnett, D-Farmington Hills.
The three bills will eventually be combined into two bills, one dealing with private employees and the other with public employees.
Gov. Rick Snyder said in a press conference Thursday that right-to-work legislation for public and private employees, excluding police and firefighters, will proceed and he will sign the legislation when it reaches his desk.
“The values of freedom, fairness and equality in the workplace should unite us all,” Snyder said. “And as states fiercely compete for jobs, this legislation will ensure that investors know Michigan is the place to do business.”
Snyder rejected the notion that the legislation is divisive.
“The goal isn’t to divide Michigan. It is to bring Michigan together,” Snyder said.
Pro-union advocates flooded the Capitol Building and the governor’s office to make their voices heard during his announcement. Police arrested several protesters and sprayed mace inside the Capitol to disperse the crowd, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The governor’s announcement comes as a surprise considering he spent most of his term in office continually pushing right-to-work talks to the side and keeping it off his agenda, sometimes to the frustration of Republicans in Lansing.
Opponents of right-to-work laws argue that they hurt union finances and make it difficult for them to fairly negotiate for wages and benefits. Supporters say workers have a right to choose whether or not to pay dues with their own money and promotes fairness in the workplace.
If the legislation becomes law, Michigan would become the nation’s 24th right-to-work state.
The announcement came a couple of days after Union Conservatives and the Michigan branch of the conservative activist group Americans for Prosperity held a “lobby day” in Lansing to support right-to-work legislation.
Another influential conservative group, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, signaled its support for a right-to-work law on Monday for the first time.
Additionally, Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, sent every Michigan legislator a letter urging them to send a bill to Snyder’s desk in the current lame duck session.
“This is one of the most important steps you can take to jumpstart the state’s economy, boost employment and spur population growth,” Norquist wrote in the letter, according to The Detroit News.
Democrats vow to fight back
Michigan Democrats, in the minority in both houses of the state Legislature, were furious over the bill’s passage, accusing state Republicans of using the lame duck session to ram through legislation.
“You’re doing this in lame duck because you know next session, you won’t have the votes,” said state Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids. “This is an outrage.”
Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, said Republicans are ignoring voters.
“Here we are, less than a month after the election, and the choice voters made at the ballot box shows that voters don’t want this type of divisive agenda,” Whitmer said.
Chants of “Shame on you” began as soon as the votes were tallied for the first Senate bill. Senate Democrats walked out of the chamber before a vote on the second bill began.
House Democrats also briefly walked out in protest of police locking the Capitol doors and keeping protesters out.
President Barack Obama, who will visit Redford on Monday to advance his economic agenda, blasted the legislation through a spokesman.
“The President believes our economy is stronger when workers get good wages and good benefits, and he opposes attempts to roll back their rights,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said in a statement.
Poll: Michiganders split on right-to-work
A survey of 600 likely voters conducted by EPIC-MRA for the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV from Nov. 27 through Nov. 29 found 54 percent of voters support right-to-work laws, while 40 percent oppose them.
However, when asked if Michigan should become a right-to-work state, voters become just about evenly split, with 47 percent supporting and 46 percent opposing.
How legislators vote on right-to-work legislation could have an impact on the 2014 election, when Snyder and every member of the Legislature are up for re-election.
The poll found 39 percent of voters said they would be less likely to vote for a legislator that supports right-to-work laws, while 24 percent said they would be more likely and 28 percent said there would be no impact.
Similarly, 40 percent of voters said they would be less likely to support Snyder in 2014 if he backed right-to-work legislation, whereas 24 percent would be more likely and 31 percent said it would have no influence.