2012-12-13 / Front Page

‘Right to Work’ fight on

Local union reps speak out against legislative actions

MANISTIQUE – Michigan is now a “Right to Work” state, but not everyone is happy with the transition. On Tuesday, the Michigan House and Senate passed two bills eliminating the requirement that any person entering a public position represented by a union must join the union and/or pay the union dues. Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bills into law.

The first of the bills, House Bill 4003, amends Public Act 336 of 1947 by adding sections allowing any public employee the right to, among other things, “refrain or resign from membership in, voluntary affiliation with, or voluntary financial support of a labor organization or bargaining representative.”

Within the section granting the right for an employee to opt out of union coverage, a subsection specifies that public police, fire department employees, and state police troopers or sergeants are exempt from this new addition.

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs is granted $1 million within the bill to ensure the act is correctly implemented.

Senate Bill 116 makes the same changes to Public Act 1976 of 1939.

According to Gov. Snyder, the bills, now Public Acts 348 and 349, will make Michigan the 24th Right to Work state.

“These new laws are pro-worker and pro- Michigan,” Snyder said Tuesday. “Workers deserve the right to decide for themselves whether union membership benefits them. We also must make Michigan more inviting to job providers so our families can enjoy more and better jobs. Introducing freedom-to-work in Michigan will contribute to our state’s economic comeback while preserving the roles of unions and collective bargaining.”

Jan Wright, Manistique Education Association union representative, said Tuesday the new laws will only hurt the state.

“The Right to Work legislation is an attempt to divide organized labor, to drive a wedge between workers that are essentially doing the same job,” she said. “This legislation will bring about lower wages and benefits for residents and workers in the state of Michigan.”

While Gov. Snyder’s office claims Indiana, which enacted similar laws earlier this year, has reported growth by attracting more companies, this does not appear to be the norm. According to a report by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Labor and Industrial Relations, states that have passed “Right to Work” legislation now have wages and benefits, for both union and non-union, lower than the national averages.

The report explains that the laws tend to encourage employees to raise wages and benefits of non-union workers to discourage unionization. However, once the “threat” of unionization is gone, the same employers have the ability to lower compensation.

Unions, by law, are required to represent all employees within a bargaining unit, the report explains. By removing the requirement that each employee must either join the union and/or pay the union dues, employees are no longer obligated to “cover the expense of negotiating and administering a labor agreement.”

“The state of Michigan that was built on the backs of labor unions,” explained Wright. “The legislation divides workers therefore the term ‘collective’ bargaining is bogus. Those individuals that say this is not an assault on the collective bargaining process are liars.”

Marilyn Benish, chairperson for the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, agrees that the new legislation will destroy the collective bargaining process.

“It’s a sad day for our union,” she said. “This new bill will diminish the voice of every working man and woman in Michigan.”

According to Sue Cameron, local union representative for AFSCME, the new legislation basically strips unions of their power at the bargaining table. It will also allow for the presence of “free riders”, who will reap the benefits of wage, hour, and work condition stipulations without contributing to the union who ensures these rights.

She noted that many people are confused about where the dues for the union go, but that, for AFSCME, dues go directly to cover things like collective bargaining, lawyers, grievances, and safety in the workplace. Political actions or support, Cameron added, are not funded by dues. This money is raised separately by a “people program” in which union members organize to promote legislative equality.

The laws take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. Cameron explained unions will be taking advantage of this time to try to correct the actions taken in the “lame duck” session.

Both acts are available to view at www.legislature.mi.gov.

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