News Story

Right-to-Work Bills Pass Michigan House, Senate

Dem Rep.: 'This legislation will return us to the sharecropping days of the deep south'

LANSING — Bills that would make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state in the nation passed in the House and Senate on Thursday evening. It appears likely that the bills be sent to the governor early next week.

Workers in right-to-work states have the freedom to choose if they want to be members of the union and are not forced to pay union dues or agency fees as a condition of employment. 

The legislative action came on the heels of a Thursday morning news conference held by Gov. Rick Snyder, GOP legislative leaders and union members who support right-to-work. At that news conference, Gov. Snyder, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, and House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, all expressed support for right-to-work.

In the late afternoon, the bills began moving, House Bill 4054 was passed by the House. Later, Senate Bill 116 and House Bill 4003 were passed by the Senate after lengthy debate. The bills now each move to the other chambers and passage could be as soon as Tuesday. Gov. Snyder didn't hesitate about what he would do when a final bill hits his desk, saying that when the bill "arrives on my desk, I plan on signing it."

In the House, the vote was 58-52, with six Republicans voting "no." The "no" votes were Reps: Anthony Forlini, R-Harrison Township, Ken Goike, R-Ray Township, Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, Pat Somerville, R-New Boston and Dale Zorn, R-Ida. All of the Democrats voted “no.”

In the Senate, the right-to-work legislation passed on a 22-16 vote. Four Republican senators voted “no” along with all of the Democrats. Republican senators who cast “no” votes were: Sens. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, and Mike Green, R-Mayville.

Earlier in the day, the Capitol building was jammed with union protesters. Ultimately the outside doors were locked for security reasons so that no more protesters could get in.

However, those already inside were allowed to stay. Some of them filled the galleries in the House and Senate chambers and could be heard reacting to the debates.

Lawmakers who voted for right-to-work bills on Thursday said the protesters didn't influence them.

"We found them extremely underwhelming," said Rep. Jeff Farrington, R-Utica. "We were expecting a lot more. We were surprised that so few turned out.

"We knew a lot of those people were bused in," Rep. Farrington said. "This wasn't a grassroots effort."

Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, said he thought the protesters' actions tended to have a negative effect on what the protesters wanted.

"I know they don't affect me," Rep. Haveman said. "I think when they come here and behave the way they do, it just convinces those who might be sitting on the fence that passing something like this is the right thing to do.

"If the unions can justify their existence to the workers, they'll get the workers' support," Rep. Haveman said. "We're basically saying the unions will have to do the kinds of things we've come to expect in the private sector."

Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, said the presence and behavior of the protesters didn't have any effect on him.

"Everybody has their rights," Rep. Nesbitt said. "But just because they disagree doesn't mean they have to be disagreeable. It just seems like this is what we see whenever a special interest is challenged.

"When it comes down to it, we are trying to make Michigan more competitive nationally and internationally," Rep. Nesbitt said. "It all comes down to more and better jobs."

Rep. Frank Foster, R-Pellston, said he thinks Michigan GOP lawmakers aren't likely to be influenced by protesters shouting at the Capitol.

"I think a lot of us saw what happened in Wisconsin," Rep. Foster said. "By comparison it didn't seem like what happened here today was much.

"It just tends to show that support in union ranks is dwindling," Rep. Foster said. "We took some tough votes last year and there were protesters here a lot then, too. On this issue we voted on today, we'd done our research. We were confident in our positions."

Rep. Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck, questioned whether the protesters really represented Michigan workers at all.

"I heard an awful lot of them came from out of state," Rep. Genetski said. "I also got the idea that a lot of them were paid to be here."

Democrats offered several amendments to the bills, including one that would have postponed the legislation from taking effect until 2014 and another that would have made the legislation null and void, if Michigan's unemployment rate didn't drop by 1 percentage point per year.

Republicans easily voted down all of the attempted amendments.

During the comment period just prior to the final vote on Senate Bill 116, Democrats made long statements against the legislation. The longest was basically a filibuster attempt by Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Highland Park, who read a report that included a summary of the history of labor unions in the U.S. and what appeared to be an anti-RTW analysis.

Other comments from the Democrats included:

"By passing this right-to-work legislation you are actually attacking employees," said Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield. "I encourage all of my colleagues to stand up to the Majority Leader and the Governor."

"This is another bow to big business,” Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, said. "If you move a call of the question (for a final vote), I'm leaving and I'm going to join the workers in the rotunda."

"This legislation will return us to the sharecropping days of the deep south," said Sen. Virgil Smith, D-Detroit.

"I'm telling you that we will fight you on this thing from the penthouse to the outhouse," said Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit. "Be prepared to engage in the fight of your life."

"There are going to be some very interesting things that happen in this state if this passes," said Sen. Morris Hood III, D-Detroit. "President Barack Obama has said he is against right-to-work legislation in the state of Michigan. There are some people around here (Gov. Snyder) who want a bridge. They may want to go to him (President Obama) for some money. As my father used to tell me — what's good for the goose is good for the gander."

HB 4003 applies to public sector unions, with the exception of police and firefighters, Senate Bill 116 applies to private sector unions. Under the plan, the two bills that are expected to eventually get to Gov. Snyder's desk are HB 4003 and SB 166. House Bill 4054 mirrors SB 116 and will be held in reserve for procedural purposes.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.