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A 'National Attack': Michigan Passes 'Right-to-Work' Law

Police in riot gear confront thousands as legislation seen as blow to collective bargaining power, middle class passes

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law contentious "right-to-work" legislation on Tuesday after tear-gas wielding police and over ten thousand people protesting the attack on labor converged at the state Capitol and vowed that the day's action was just the beginning.

Snyder's signature makes the state the 24th to have a law dubbed by critics as "right-to-work for less." 

Among the thousands speaking out against the legislation Tuesday was United Auto Worker President Bob King, the Detroit Free Press reports:

"Unions built the middle class of America," he said. "This is a national attack. These folks want to shift more and more of the wealth to a smaller and smaller group of people."

Speaker after speaker, including firefighters, teachers and factory workers, vowed today’s protest was just the start. They said they would follow legislators all over the state to remind people of their votes.

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State Rep. Brandon Dillon, who spoke out against the legislation on the House floor on Thursday, told Democracy Now! on Tuesday that Republicans are "pushing a law that is decisively anti-labor-union, anti-worker, and the only defense they can have is to come up with buzzwords like 'freedom to work' and 'pro-worker.'"

San Francisco State University professor John Logan dismantles the Republican worker "freedom" story at In These Times:

Snyder insists on stating that right-to-work laws give workers the “ultimate choice” on whether or not they join a union. Either through willful ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation, Snyder is professing to give employees a right that they already enjoy.

In fact, right-to-work laws simply outlaw agreements that provide for agency fees from non-members, thereby making it much more difficult for unions to maintain stable organizations. Unions are still required by law to negotiate on behalf of all the workers in the bargaining unit, even though under right-to-work, non-members don't pay for the representation they receive.

What right-to-work laws are really about, according to Rep. Dillon, is corporate profits.

This isn’t about freedom to choose, and they—they know that. They know from their own polling that the more people know about this proposal, the less they like it. What they don’t tell you is that nobody has been forced to join a labor union in Michigan. It’s illegal under federal law. And in fact, if this right to work — or as my colleagues and I like to refer to it as "freedom to freeload" — passes, those that choose not to join a union and not to pay dues will still be given all the benefits that a union contract entails and all the protections that union representation has. The proponents of this legislation will not tell you that. They will not tell you that unions will still be bound to represent those people who choose not to participate in the union.

And for a party that talks about personal responsibility all the time, it seems strangely ironic that they’re promoting this idea of freeloading, because really what it’s about is what Betsy DeVos and her husband have said all along: They don’t like the fact that Michigan workers enjoy a higher standard of living than other states; they did not like high wages; they don’t like the fact that unions have some place at the bargaining table to advocate for their employees; they want to weaken the hand of unions; they want to depress wages; and they want to make it an economy where a shrinking middle class means more corporate profits.

The Michigan bills have "bill mill" ALEC's fingerprints all over them, Brendan Fischer points out at PRWatch:

"This is a major day in Michigan's history," Gov. Snyder said during a news conference shortly after signing the legislation.  But if labor supporters like teacher Mike Ingels are right, the day also marks a major point in the fight against such anti-union efforts.

“This is not the end,” Ingels said. “This is the beginning.”

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Mandi Wright of the Detroit Free Press has video of labor rights protesters in the Capitol Rotunda:

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