Michigan prepares for mass protests against right-to-work legislation
Union leaders in Michigan have been training members in “peaceful civil disobedience” methods in preparation for a protest on Tuesday against controversial right-to-work legislation.
Supporters of the law, which among other measures would prohibit unions from collecting fees from non-union workers, are also expected to demonstrate at the state capitol in Lansing.
The Republican-dominated Michigan Senate voted the right-to-work bill on Thursday by 22 votes to 16. Governor Rick Synder has said he will sign the bill into law and could do so on Tuesday.
The Teamsters union, which helped host the training sessions at the weekend, said hundreds of people are “ready to get arrested” in the push against right-to-work legislation.
Union officials said the mass demonstration outside the capitol would be accompanied by flash mobs, rallies and news conferences throughout the day.
Barack Obama, who reiterated his opposition to right-to-work laws on Thursday, was due in Michigan on Monday as he presses his case for fiscal cliff negotiations to result in tax hikes for the wealthiest Americans. It is not known if Obama will discuss Michigan’s right-to-work status, but last week White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said the president “continues to oppose” the law.
“The president believes our economy is stronger when workers get good wages and good benefits, and he opposes attempts to roll back their rights,” Lehrich said. “Michigan – and its workers’ role in the revival of the US automobile industry – is a prime example of how unions have helped build a strong middle class and a strong American economy.”
Eight people were arrested at the Capitol on Thursday as state senators voted on the legislation. Police said the arrests came after some of the crowd had attempted to rush into the Senate. Officers used pepper spray on some of the protesters.
Opponents of the right-to-work laws said the bills ad been rushed through the legislature. Democrats said Republicans had wanted to act to pass the law before a new Senate takes office next month – when the Republican majority will be weakened as the party lost five House seats in the November elections.
Should the bills be signed into law on Tuesday Michigan will become the 24th state to introduce right-to-work legislation. Unions argue that wages in right-to-work states are lower than those which do not have the legislation. In February last year a study by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found that wages in right-to-work states are on average 3.2% lower than states without it.
The right to work legislation in Michigan is made up of three bills – Senate bill 116 and two House bills, 4003 and 4054.
The legislation would make it illegal for workers to be required to pay union dues as a condition of employment, which Republicans say would attract more jobs.
Opponents of the law say that the bill can lead to a “free rider” problem, where workers do not pay union fees yet still get the benefits of collective bargaining by the union, funded by members. Democrats have criticised the legislation as existing to curb the power of the unions and reduce their influence.
Neighbouring Indiana passed its own right-to-work law earlier this year, becoming the first rust-belt state to back the law. Previously most of the right-to-work states had been in the south.
More than 3,000 people have signed up to a Facebook event created for Tuesday’s protests on Facebook, with attendees being encouraged to wear red to show their opposition to the legislation. On Monday the Michigan branch of National Nurses United protested outside the building, with members fixing tape over their mouth.
“Nurses are outraged at Gov Snyder’s war on workers, knowing that the wounds he is inflicting on our state will hurt for decades to come,” said Katie Oppenheim, a registered nurse from Ann Arbor.
“Our union is our voice in the workplace, and nurses use that voice every single day to keep patients safe against corporations that only care about their profits. Gov Snyder and CEOs are using ‘Right to Work’ to shut workers up, pure and simple.”
The NNA will be among several unions with a presence in Lansing on Tuesday. Last week protesters received a boost when the NFL Players Association came out against right to work.
“We stood up against this in the past, and we stand against it in its current form in Michigan,” George Atallah, the association’s assistant executive director for external affairs, told ThinkProgress. “Our leadership and players are always proud to stand with workers in Michigan and everywhere else. We don’t think voters chose this, and we don’t think workers deserve this.”
Michigan state police posted the rules of the state capitol over the weekend and said it would be strictly enforcing the guidelines, which say action should not interfere with a legislative session or threaten the safety of those who work at the capitol. Streets will be closed to traffic around the building on Tuesday morning in anticipation of large numbers of protesters.