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Michigan Right to Work Law Brought to You by Billionaire Kochs, ALEC

Anti-worker law the result of years of campaigning by AFP, American Legislative Exchange Council

- Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The passage on Tuesday of the so-called right to work law in Michigan is the result of efforts by ALEC and the billionaire Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity (AFP) years in the making, and may serve as an ominous sign to other states.

Lansing, Michigan Dec. 11, 2012 (Photo: wisaflcio via flickr) ALEC, AFP and the Anti-Worker Agenda

As Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy has pointed out, both ALEC and AFP have been pushing anti-worker agendas:

Standing tall behind [Michigan's right to work] measure was David Koch's Americans for Prosperity group, the non-profit organization that bankrolled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's efforts to strip the state's public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights. AFP ran a multi-million dollar ad campaign trying to convince Wisconsinites that unions were their enemy, sponsoring rallies and backing Walker to the hilt when he later faced recall over the measure.

The crowing began early [Thursday] morning. "Michigan passage of right-to-work legislation will be the shot heard around the world for workplace freedom. A victory over forced unionization in a union stronghold like Michigan would be an unprecedented win on par with Wisconsin that would pave the way for right to work in states across our nation," said Scott Hagerstrom, Michigan director of AFP in a statement.

AFP and other Koch-funded groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have long promoted an extreme anti-worker agenda. It comes as no surprise that key sponsors of the Michigan bill in the House and the Senate such as Senator Arlan Meekhoff, Rep. Tom McMillin, and Rep. Pete Lund are ALEC members. Michigan legislators talked about their plans for passing Right to Work at the ALEC Spring Task Force Meeting in Charlotte earlier this year according to a legislator from New Hampshire.

The 'Building Blocks'

Reuters reports on efforts by Michigan state senator Patrick Colbeck and state Representative Mike Shirkey (an ALEC member) begun in 2011:

[I]n a convergence of methodical planning and patient alliance building - the "systematic approach" - the reformers were on a roll, one that establishment Michigan Republicans came to embrace and promised to bankroll.

Republicans executed a plan - the timing, the language of the bills, the media strategy, and perhaps most importantly, the behind-the-scenes lobbying of top Republicans including Snyder.

They knew they would likely face an acrimonious battle of the kind they had seen over the last two years in the neighboring state of Wisconsin between Republican Governor Scott Walker and unions. Operating in plain sight but often overlooked, they worked to put the necessary building blocks in place.

The Nation's Lee Fang illustrates the surge in spending by the Michigan chapter of AFP since 2010 and writes:

Americans for Prosperity–Michigan, the group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, has a relatively new chapter in Michigan that has produced pamphlets extolling right-to-work reforms. This week, the group set up a heated tent outside the capital to support Snyder’s law and bused activists to Lansing to counter labor protesters.

Plotting with AFP in 2007

But "the necessary building blocks," as Reuters phrases it, for the legislation began further back.  Jane Slaughter writes at Labor Notes:

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer dates the campaign for right to work to at least 2007. A video shows former Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser speaking to a Tea Party meeting in August. Weiser, now finance chair of the Republican National Committee, describes meeting with DeVos, former Michigan Governor John Engler (now with the Business Roundtable), representatives from Americans for Prosperity, and Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma, which passed right to work in 2001. (Here the CEO of Oklahoma's Chamber of Commerce admits he can't name any companies that moved to Oklahoma because of right to work.)

Weiser: "We hired a political consultant, and I invested a bunch of money and time, and I was working on that full-time from October [2007] until March [2008]…. [After meeting with the above-named players], what we determined was that to win that election, and to be sure we were gonna win it, we couldn’t have a governor that was against it. So we decided to wait. Wait until we had a governor. Now we have a legislature and we have a governor."

Those elements were in place by January 2011. But Snyder and the Republican majority in the legislature held off on right to work, perhaps warned by the tumult next door in Wisconsin that winter. Instead they pursued a piecemeal strategy, appointing “emergency managers” to run troubled cities and throw out union contracts, taking away teachers’ automatic dues deductions, rescinding domestic partner benefits for public employees, defining university research assistants, who were organizing, as non-workers, and a host of other measures that wouldn’t rile everyone at once."

The emergency manager part of the "piecemeal strategy" is proving hard for the people of Michigan to shake.  While voters in November repealed the emergency manager law known as Public Act 4, the Michigan House on Wednesday already passed new emergency manager legislation and received the praise of ALEC member Rep. Tom McMillin, who MLive reports as saying the legislation is "very excellent."

That the Michigan law is based on model ALEC legislation is made plain in this side-by-side comparison from the Center for Media and Democracy:

Pushing for Right to Work since 1979

And Paul Abowd writes at the Center for Public Integrity, the right to work legislation coming to the state with such strong labor history has actually been 32 years in the making.

Abowd writes:

Since 1973, ALEC has hosted corporate-sponsored meetings where state legislators and lobbyists meet behind closed doors to write and vote on model legislation. In a 1992 annual report, the free-market think tank boasted that it “provides the private sector an unparalleled opportunity” to influence state legislation.

One of its first priorities was passage of “right-to-work” laws, which now exist in 24 states. The 16 states with the lowest union density in the country have right-to-work laws, mostly in the American South and West, while the 13 states with the highest union density do not, until this week.

‘Forced unionism’

In a publication celebrating its 25th year, ALEC said it “began striking out against forced unionism and for the right to work in 1979.” ALEC members endorsed the law as model legislation and began introducing it in states in 1980.

Other states following suit?

Now ALEC, AFP and others who support right to work legislation may be taking Michigan's passage of the bill as inspiration it can pass elsewhere. A Washington Post article Thursday "Groups vow to push 'right to work' in other states" includes this:

"If Michigan can do it, then I think everybody ought to think about it," said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. He said he thinks at least one more state will adopt such a law before the end of 2013, and listed Alaska, Missouri, Montana and Pennsylvania among the top contenders. "Very confident. It will happen. [But] I can’t tell you where the next one is."

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