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Unions assemble to oppose right-to-work

McKenzie Berezin/Daily
Peter Solenberger, lead applications programmer analyst at the Institute for Social Research and a member of the UAW, discusses right-to-work at an open forum held in Angell Hall Thursday. Buy this photo

By Amrutha Sivakumar, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 7, 2013

The fight over Michigan's right-to-work legislation continued Thursday night as Ann Arbor community members joined with University students to talk about the potential impacts of the controversial law.

The event, named “Right to Work (for less) and Others,” was the first of a series of events organized to discuss and propose solutions to various forms of “austerity” in Michigan. Sponsoring organizations include Washtenaw Community Action Team, Graduate Employees’ Organization, Lecturers’ Employee Organization, Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice and Student Union of Michigan.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed the right-to-work bill on Dec. 11, which prevents anyone from being automatically enrolled in a union and have dues deducted from their paycheck. The legislation is proposed to go into effect on March 27.

Sociology lecturer Ian Robinson, a member of LEO, said by making union membership and dues voluntary, employees benefitting from the collective wage bidding of the unions would be able to “freeload” from the unions’ efforts.

“If you’re a beneficiary, you need to contribute to the negotiations and all the organizing that goes into a collective agreement,” Robinson said.

Art & Design senior Ian Matchett, a representative from the Student Union of Michigan, said he too opposed the law. SUM is a recently formed organization working to control tuition costs and increase student input in budget appropriations.

Matchett said the majority of graduating students will be members of the workforce rather than business owners and therefore anti-union measures would directly affect them.

He added that it was important for students to take a pro-union stance to best represent their interest in the long run.

“Our challenge is organizing student opinions and supporting the fact that students should have a right to share their message,” Matchett said. “We cannot rely on the state to give us this right.”

One such reform could come through endorsing student representation on the University’s Board of Regents, Matchett suggested.

“The idea is for the student body as a whole to have a voice,” Matchett added. “If we get that, we can begin to make calls through that position and begin organizing for a more powerful Central Student Government.”

State Representative Jeff Irwin told the crowd that he blames the “current conservative leadership of our state” for imposing legislation that could drive down wages.

“People need to understand that the most dynamic, successful economies in the world respect collective bargaining,” Irwin said. “Then they can wrap their heads around the idea that diminishing union rights isn’t going to make our state more prosperous.”

In an interview after the event, Irwin said he hopes University students become more active in modern political movements by educating themselves on the implications of restrictive legislation.

Follow Amrutha Sivakumar on Twitter at @xamrutha.