By Rayza Goldsmith, Daily News Editor
Published December 6, 2012
Both the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate passed right-to-work bills on Thursday, taking the state one step closer to becoming the 24th right-to-work state in the nation.
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At a press conference Thursday, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder announced that he was prepared to sign right-to-work legislation into law should it reach his desk. Later in the day, three separate right-to-work bills were introduced in the state House and Senate that will eventually be consolidated into two bills.
House Bill 4054 passed in the House at about 4:45 p.m. by a a 58-52 margin. All Democrats and six Republicans voted against the resolution. At around 7:45 p.m., the Senate passed its own right-to-work bills. The first, which deals with public employees, passed with a vote of 22-16, with all Senate Democrats and four Senate Republicans voting against it. The second, which addresses private-sector employees, passed 22-4. Senate Democrats walked out of the chamber before the vote was taken.
The House version failed to make its way to the Senate on Thursday due to a move by the Democrats to reconsider the vote. The Senate will have to wait until the next session day, which could be Friday, to deliberate on the House version of the bill.
Snyder has been unwilling to address right-to-work legislation since before he was elected governor in 2010, according to Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for Snyder.
“The governor has been pretty clear that this hasn’t been something that’s been on his agenda,” Weiss said. “It is on the table now because, you know, Proposal 2 was on the ballot, and it’s become an issue.”
If signed by the governor, the bills would prohibit union membership as a requirement for employment.
Though Republican governors elected in 2010 in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere moved to pass right-to-work laws soon after taking office, Snyder has been reluctant to combat union rights.
Weiss added that the governor feels the issue about granting workers the choice of whether or not to join of union instead of opposing unions as a whole.
“(Snyder) feels very strongly that people ought to have the choice,” Weiss said. “He clearly does not view this as an issue of being anti-union. He’s been very clear that he supports unions, he supports collective bargaining, but he also supports choice, and he very much feels that folks ought to have the right to choose whether or not they join or not.”
However, Democratic legislators and those in favor of collective bargaining have argued that the legislation is purely an attempt to dismantle unions.
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said Republican legislators are taking advantage of the lame-duck session to enact legislation that won’t be feasible once the new Legislature takes over in January.
“Republicans lost elections across the state of Michigan, and their agenda was pretty roundly repudiated, and now this is their really last chance to get this done before the will of the voters is enacted with the new Legislature in January,” Irwin said. “So, this is the time when a lot of their members who lost elections because they support things like right-to-work are going to have one last chance to exact retribution.”
Irwin added that the assertion that the legislation is a response to failure of Proposal 2 — which appeared on the ballot on Nov. 6 and sought to grant Michiganders the constitutional right to collectively bargain — is an excuse.
“It’s no secret that the Republican Party represents rich and powerful interests, and those rich and powerful interests want to pay workers less, and so I think Rick Snyder’s just responding to the drum beat of his party,” Irwin said.
Irwin further asserted that the implications of the legislation are dire for the state.
“What the governor’s proposing is a policy that will drive down wages and hurt Michigan’s economy,” Irwin said.