Michigan protests unlikely to stop "right-to-work" laws

LANSING, Michigan Mon Dec 10, 2012 6:15pm EST

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks after his tour of the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Michigan, December 10, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks after his tour of the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Michigan, December 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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LANSING, Michigan (Reuters) - Republicans are likely to approve contentious "right-to-work" measures in the union stronghold of Michigan on Tuesday despite thousands of people converging on the state capital to protest proposed laws they say would lower wages and hurt workers.

Organizers expect as many as 10,000 unionized workers to go to the state capital of Lansing on Tuesday, some taking a day off from jobs, to demonstrate against the laws which would make union membership and dues payment voluntary.

President Barack Obama waded into the debate during a visit to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Michigan on Monday, criticizing the Republican "right-to-work" effort.

"What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money," Obama said to loud applause from workers. His visit to Michigan was scheduled before the issue erupted.

Michigan is far more important to the labor movement than Wisconsin, where a similar battle was fought with unions over the last two years. Michigan is the home of the U.S. auto industry, with some 700 manufacturing plants in the state, and is where the United Auto Workers union was born.

While the new laws are not expected to have much immediate impact because existing union contracts would be preserved, they could, over time, further weaken the UAW, which has already seen its influence wane in negotiating with the major automakers.

Both Democratic and Republican sources said approval of Michigan becoming the 24th "right-to-work" state is almost assured as Republicans have majorities in the legislature. Governor Rick Snyder has vowed to sign the legislation.


So-called right-to-work laws would prohibit closed union shops that compel workers to pay union dues, which for members of the UAW is equal to their pay for two hours a month.

On Monday, only a handful of protesters were seen outside the Capitol building as the legislature was not in session.

Last Thursday, when the measures were rushed to preliminary approval in both chambers of the legislature, a crowd of protesters rallied outside the Capitol and several hundred got inside. Some people were arrested and the Capitol was temporarily closed to visitors for safety reasons, according to Michigan State Police Inspector Gene Adamczyk.

Adamczyk said his officers along with local fire marshals will work to keep the Capitol open throughout the legislature's work day on Tuesday, but security was expected to be tight.

Jase Bolger, the Republican House Speaker, said he expects two bills to pass the House on Tuesday covering public and private sector unions. He dismissed Democratic charges that the "right-to-work" issue has not been properly aired with public hearings.

"We've debated this in the legislature for almost two years now," Bolger said.

Michigan Democratic leaders accused Bolger and the Republicans of ramming the "right-to-work" laws through during a "lame duck" session of the legislature.

Political analysts have said bills were rushed to a vote last week because Republicans lost five Michigan House seats in the November election and their majority would shrink in January, when the new legislature is seated.

"We're under no illusions that we are likely to stop this thing," said Democratic House member Tim Greimel, who will be the House minority leader in the new year. "But the least the people of Michigan deserve is some semblance of a deliberate process."

Michigan's Democratic U.S. Senator Carl Levin and six Democratic congressmen met with Snyder on Monday and urged him to veto the "right-to-work" laws.

The governor said he would seriously consider their appeal but his office later issued videos showing workers who support "right-to-work" and there was no indication he would back off.

Michigan has the fifth highest percentage of unionized workers in the United States at 17.5 percent and the Detroit area is headquarters for General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler.

(Additional reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Greg McCune and Christopher Wilson)

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Comments (4)
EdgePrice1978 wrote:
The President needs to allow states to make their own decisions not undermine them unless they go against federal law. Which this one does not. He is campaigning rather than doing the job he was re elected for, and let us look at the mistakes of Solyndra and the Battery plant were he touted them as away to bring back employment, instead Solyndra went bankrupt on our money and the Battery Plant technology was bought by the Chinese. Wasted money that could have gone to really helping the American People went into the pockets of his buddies at Solyndra who supported his election! The money made thru the bankruptcy goes first to the private investors. A prior restructuring deal allowed private investors to be repaid before taxpayers. We are in this project to the tune of $528 million.

Battery Plant in Michigan funded by President Obama who touted it in 2010 as evidence “manufacturing jobs are coming back to the United States,” but two years later, a Michigan hybrid battery plant built with $150 million in taxpayer funds is putting workers on furlough before a single battery has been produced.

American Battery A123 has been sold to Chinese
A123 vowed to create 3,000 jobs by the end of 2012, but has just 1,300 new jobs. It won $249.1 million in federal grants in 2009 to build plants in Romulus and Livonia, but has spent $132 million. It got more than $125 million in tax credits from the state.

He touts unions but can’t even spend our taxpayer money wisely. So much of our Stimulus money has gone to bankrupt people and companies. Great first 4 years Mr. President, wonder what the next 4 will bring with your track record as a country we will be bankrupt by 2016 even if you increase the taxes on the rich 10 fold!

Dec 10, 2012 8:26pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Laker12 wrote:
Detroit and Michigan has a choice, they can either approve the right to work or keep on the track they are on, which is the right to go bankrupt.

Dec 10, 2012 8:29pm EST  --  Report as abuse
ronMc wrote:
My perspective on unions was forever cast when I worked two summers for Chrysler in the mid-60s. UAW members constantly sabotaged car parts, bragging that this showed management that the UAW couldn’t be bullied. Even as a teenager back then, I realized that this would only lead to poor customer experiences and eventual bankruptcy on the part of US auto manufacturers. Sure enough, US consumers got tired of constant quality problems with cars made by UAW members, and all three US car manufacturers’ market has continued to drop ever since. Obama has unfortunately chosen to kowtow to the UAW instead of showing real leadership. For me, and for most intelligent consumers, we’ll continue buying cars made by non-union firms until the UAW changes its tune.

Dec 10, 2012 8:29pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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