WASHINGTON -- Gov. Rick Snyder (R) officially made Michigan a "right-to-work" state on Tuesday, signing into law two bills that significantly diminish the power of unions.
"I have signed these bills into law. ... We are moving forward on the topic of workplace fairness and equality," he said at a press conference on Tuesday evening, just hours after the state House passed the bills.
Right-to-work laws forbid contracts between companies and unions that require all workers to pay the union for bargaining on their behalf. Although business groups and conservatives cast the issue in terms of workplace freedom, unions note that the laws allow workers to opt out of supporting the union although they reap the benefits of the collective bargaining. Since the laws tend to weaken unions generally, unions, as well as President Barack Obama, call the legislation "right to work for less."
Snyder's move is a particular victory for right-to-work proponents. Most right-to-work states are solidly red and in the south. Michigan, however, has one of the highest rates of unionization in the country, is the birthplace of the modern automotive industry, and is consistently a swing state in elections and went for Obama in 2012.
The GOP-controlled state legislature had fast-tracked the two bills, which authorize right-to-work measures for public and private unions in the state, bypassing the normal committee process and public input period.
Even before Snyder signed the bills, labor unions were investigating ways to possibly repeal them. Labor officials were largely taken off-guard by the rapid push for right to work, believing that Snyder was sincere in his negotiations with them to keep it off his desk.
The governor repeatedly said he didn't want right to work on the agenda, arguing it would be incredibly divisive in the state. In his press conference on Tuesday, Snyder blamed unions' actions for the reason he signed the bill, pointing to their pushing of Proposal 2. The ballot measure, which would have enshrined collective bargaining rights in the state constitution, was rejected by voters in November.
"The timing of such is something I didn't seek out," he said. "But really what took place this summer with Proposal 2 triggered the dialogue and discussion on this. I asked labor leaders not to move forward with a ballot proposal because I knew it could trigger a discussion that could lead to right to work being a divisive issue. Unfortunately they moved forward, it became divisive, and it was time to step up and take a leadership position, which I believe I've done, with good teamwork in the legislature."
Previewing the divisiveness that is likely to plague the state politically going forward, National Action Network Michigan civil rights leader Rev. Charles Williams III said in a statement sent out by SEIU, " Because good jobs and so much else is at stake, we will not rest until workers’ rights to a fair and decent wage are restored. Everything is on the table during the next two years.”
Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), a vocal opponent of right to work who met with the governor to urge him to veto the bills, quickly sent out a statement saying the push to repeal the law needed to begin immediately.
“The effort to reverse this wrong-headed action and restore a Michigan that encourages middle class jobs and race to the top for its workers -– not a crash to the bottom –- begins today," he said.
"Gov. Snyder showed his true colors today: He's a puppet of extreme donors, and he is willing to ignore and lie to his constituents," added AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. "His action will undoubtedly please the Koch Brothers and corporate CEOs, but it will diminish the voice of every working man and woman in Michigan."