Michigan Unions Dodge Republican Attack In Lame-Duck Session

GOP lawmakers wanted to force public-sector unions to hold recertification elections every two years.

A plan by Michigan Republicans to weaken public-sector unions in the state fell apart in the legislature’s lame-duck session Thursday.

GOP leaders had hoped to pass a law that would force unions representing government workers to hold and pay for “recertification” elections every other year. Such elections would give workers the chance to expel their union, or recertify them as their representative. 

Republican senators took up the measure this week, but didn’t approve it in time to get it through the house and to the desk of outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder (R). They no longer have enough time to fast-track it before the lame-duck session ends.

We don’t have the votes ready to do that one,” Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof told reporters, according to MiTechNews.com.

Republicans control both chambers of the statehouse and have used the last weeks of the legislative session to try to weaken the Democratic Party and progressive policies before the arrival of Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer. A similar power grab has been unfolding in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed bills Friday restricting the powers of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general.

The recertification measure in Michigan would have hurt Democrats indirectly through the public-sector unions that tend to back and campaign for the party.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) won't get the chance to sign one more anti-union bill before leaving office this year.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) won't get the chance to sign one more anti-union bill before leaving office this year.

Under the proposal, the recertification elections would have been held between August and November of even-numbered years ― i.e., when unions would typically be doing canvassing and get-out-the-vote efforts in state and federal elections. 

The timing wasn’t a coincidence. Union leaders told HuffPost they saw it as a barely veiled effort to divert their time and money toward workplace elections when they might be focusing on political ones.

“I think there’s no question that’s part of the timing,” Doug Pratt, a spokesman for the Michigan Education Association, told HuffPost last week. “It’s pretty blatant.”

Unions would have been required to bear the cost of the recertification elections. And in order to avoid decertification, they would have had to secure a majority of votes from the entire bargaining unit, as opposed to just a majority of those who voted. That means any workers who didn’t cast a ballot would essentially count as a vote against the union.

Republicans will still control both chambers of the statehouse next year, and Meekhof said they plan to take up the recertification bill once again. But even if it’s passed it’s unlikely to be signed by Whitmer, who had broad labor support in her election against Republican Bill Schuette.

Michigan Republicans fared better in their efforts to gut proposals on the minimum wage and paid leave. When it appeared likely that voters would have a chance to vote on minimum wage and paid leave measures in November’s election, GOP lawmakers chose to take up the measures and pass them in order to head off the referendum. Then they amended and watered them down before they would become law.

Snyder signed the bills into law Friday. The minimum wage law will create a $12 wage floor by the year 2030, as opposed to the year 2024, which the ballot measure would have done. Similarly, the paid sick leave measure that was approved will exclude many workers and put a lower cap on the amount of paid time off they can accrue.