Buoyed by a substantial majority and a suddenly malleable governor, Republicans in the Michigan Legislature slammed through right-to-work legislation designed to weaken unions in a state where union influence has been steadily declining over at least the last 25 years.
If the goal was winning, Republicans reached their objective. They outmuscled unions and Democrats and gained a measure of revenge for the ill-advised Proposal 2 that was soundly defeated by Michigan voters last month. That proposal would have enshrined union rights into the state constitution. Its defeat motivated legislative Republicans to presume a public mandate for a right-to-work law.
In passing the new law, Republicans avoided committee hearings, testimony and any reasonable debate on the claims that companies are lining up outside our borders, restrained only by mandatory membership in union shops.
What Republicans have surely gained is the continued rancor of Democrats and union supporters who will use this vote as a bloody flag to rally the troops for the 2014 election; maybe earlier, if recall threats are to be taken seriously.
Meanwhile, there is likely little chance for bipartisan cooperation over the next two years. Maybe Republicans — who control all of the state’s top elected positions, the state Supreme Court and both legislative chambers — don’t think they need the Democrats. They should think again. Even with a large majority, the right-to-work legislation only passed the House by six votes. Next year, the Republicans still hold the majority, but their margin has been reduced.
Republicans dismissed the concerns about a lack of debate on the issue. They say that the right-to-work debate has raged for years. Livingston County lawmakers — such as state Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Genoa Township, and state Rep. Cindy Denby, R-Handy Township — correctly say they have favored the right-to-work concept for years.
But that’s in theory. This was a specific law that was not introduced until last week, at the lame-duck end of a two-year session. From the start of his candidacy more than two years ago, Snyder has repeatedly said that the issue was too divisive and not part of his agenda.
To argue that the issue was well-debated is disingenuous at best. Republicans including Snyder were angered by the effort to pass Proposal 2; some Republicans who lost in November saw this as a nose-thumbing parting gift to Democrats and unions; the Republicans saw the lame-duck session as a golden chance to muster the necessary votes; and Snyder, faced with angering Democrats or his own party, sided with the Republicans.
Snyder, who says he is focused on evidence-backed economic solutions for the state, is relying on little more than hearsay to back his position. After signing the law Tuesday night, he noted that Indiana was flooded with jobs because it recently passed right-to-work legislation. But because the legislation was passed without the benefit of information, there is no way to know if the Indiana claims are valid or just rhetoric.
Republicans show little faith in this major legislation. If they felt that facts were on their side, they should have been eager to trot out the overwhelming case to be made in favor of right to work. Instead, they cynically loaded the law with language that prevents a public referendum on the law.
Perhaps any negative results from the law will be mostly symbolic. Surely the state will benefit from any new jobs. And it’s likely that a state with the legacy of the United Auto Workers will not see union membership decline because of this law.
Nonetheless, Republicans have shown once again that, when it comes to their agenda, facts don’t matter.
— LIVINGSTON DAILY PRESS AND ARGUS