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When Will Right-to-Work Come to Michigan?

An interview with Rep. Mike Shirkey

Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake

Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, is expected to introduce right-to-work legislation in the Michigan House. Under such a law, employers and unions would be prohibited from negotiating contracts that require non-union employees to pay union dues.

With Indiana moving toward right-to-work status, the issue appears to be heating up in Michigan. Capitol Confidential interviewed Shirkey via telephone Tuesday evening. The following are excerpts from that interview.

Have you introduced the right-to-work legislation?

“No, it hasn't been introduced. I'm not going to speculate on the timing because sometimes that just sets you up for disappointment. Our plan is to go across the state, educate people on right-to-work and have rigorous discussions and debate about the issue.

“We believe that, if we can do that, it will build widespread support for it. We want to have demonstrated that support when we introduce the bill.”

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, has said there aren't enough “yes” votes on the Senate to pass a right-to-work bill. What's the point of introducing the legislation?

“First, I don't know if the senator has counted votes or is just speculating. But one thing I've found to be true, in the short time I've been in the Legislature, is that often you really don't know what's going to happen until a bill actually exists.

“You might have noticed that lawmakers have a tendency to say they don't know whether they'll support something or not until they can look at the bill. I think there can be a lot of truth to that.”

Have you been promised any hearings for the bill?

“No, and I haven't asked for any. We've been graciously allowed a wide swath on this. We have the opportunity to work on this, do a bill and create a winning plan. This issue is complex enough as it is. My idea is to move on it very deliberately and openly throughout the process.

“I haven't asked for any promises about hearings or anything like that. I think it would have been inappropriate if I had done so.”

Could this be one of those issues that has to ripen a little bit more before it happens in Michigan?

“I'm not sure I'd put it that way, but I think that's possible. To me it's something that has to be worked on, developed and made ready. Right now, it would be hard to predict exactly when the right time will be. That's why I'm not predicting a time frame.”

When people make comparisons between right-to-work states and non-right-to-work states, should the incomes of the unemployed and those on welfare be averaged in?

“That's precisely why I'm proposing open discussion and debate. I'm well aware that any side of an issue can take data and twist it for their purposes.

“When I see some comparisons that have been made on this issue, I always look to see if the deck has been stacked. I've seen plenty of cherry picking in some of the studies. For instance, you can't simply compare income levels in non-right-to-work states like Connecticut. In Connecticut, a $50,000 income is like minimum wage in Michigan because costs are so much higher there. The real comparisons that matter are things like disposable income and dollars invested.”

Watching the debate in Indiana, those opposed to right-to-work keep acting as if it was some alien idea that still has to be tested. Are you going to let that happen in Michigan?

“I've studied this issue off and on since 1973. Since I've been talking about it publicly I haven't heard a single argument against it that I hadn't heard previously. And regarding those arguments, I haven't heard any to which I didn't feel capable of giving a full and robust response.”

What's your opinion on the position Gov. Rick Snyder has taken on a right-to-work law?

“I respect the governor's position and I understand it. He needs to be cautious on this issue. The governor has said that he would sign a right-to-work bill if it reached his desk. Basically, his approach has been to let the Legislature do the heavy-lifting on this one.

“Although some people keep misinterpreting him on this, he has never said that he is opposed to. All he has said is that it's not something he put on his agenda. Basically, that means he's leaving it up to the Legislature.”