Michigan Right-to-Work Law Distracts From Obama Visit

Dec 10, 2012 12:39pm

ap michigan protest jef 121210 wblog Michigan Right to Work Law Distracts From Obama Visit

Members of the Michigan Nurses Association stand on the state Capitol steps in Lansing, Mich., Dec. 10, 2012, protesting right-to-work legislation. (Carlos Osorio/AP Photo)

Michigan is smack dab in the middle of a heated battle over controversial right-to-work legislation, and on Monday, before several hundred UAW workers and the Michigan Democratic congressional delegation, President Obama waded into a brewing fight over the pending legislation that would curb union influence across the state.

“I just got to say this — what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions,” Obama said at an event inside a Detroit Diesel engine plant.

“You know, these so-called right-to-work laws — they don’t have to do with economics. They have everything to do with politics,” he said. “What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”

Michigan’s law would make the payment of union dues voluntary for private-sector unions and most public-sector unions (police and firefighters would be exempt). Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the controversial bill on Tuesday, which was pushed through the Republican-controlled state legislature last week.

Protesters have swarmed the state Capitol in Lansing arguing that Snyder’s move ensures that he will be a one-term governor.

On Monday morning, ahead of the President’s visit, Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation met with Snyder to try and dissuade him from signing the bill, or at least draft legislation to delay a vote.

“The labor- management environment in this state has dramatically improved in recent years. … Fracturing that growing unity and creating a contentious labor environment will not help companies come to Michigan, we told the governor,”  Sen. Carl Levin, the state’s senior U.S. senator, told a news conference after the meeting.

“The governor listened and he told us that he would seriously, in his words, consider our concerns.”

If the bill is passed and signed Tuesday, which is when the legislature reconvenes in the state, Michigan will become the 24th right-to-work state, and Snyder will likely face a political backlash in the state that gave birth to the U.S. labor movement.

Democrats argue that such a law should be put on the ballot, and decided by the voters instead of the state’s lawmakers. The right-to-work bill is structured so that it cannot be recalled by a statewide ballot initiative, so if it’s passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, voters will have no direct say in the matter.

There’s no polling on the state’s battle that meets ABC News’ standards for publication, but recent history has indicated that such a law is unpopular in the Midwest.

An Ohio law that limited the collective-bargaining rights of union workers was repealed last year by a large margin in a statewide vote.  And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker became only the third governor in history this year to be recalled after he championed similar legislation that also limited collective-bargaining rights. Walker survived the recall effort, but it was a costly fight.

President Obama distanced himself from the recall election against Walker in June. To the frustration of Democrats in Wisconsin, and nationally, the president never went to the state to campaign for Democratic nominee Tom Barrett. He later blamed his absence on his busy schedule, saying “the truth of the matter is that as president of the United States, I’ve got a lot of responsibilities.”

A source on the ground in Michigan tells ABC News that if the governor does sign the bill, “Michigan will look worse than Wisconsin by tomorrow” in terms of protests.

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