News Story

UAW President Bob King Admits Proposal 2 Was About Right-to-Work

So much for union claims that Proposal 2 on the 2012 ballot wasn't about right-to-work. United Auto Workers President Bob King says it was.

Michigan voters soundly rejected Proposal 2 in November, 58 percent to 42 percent. In December, Gov. Rick Snyder asked the legislature for right-to-work legislation. The legislature passed the bills and Snyder signed them into law.

As the right-to-work measures began moving, the unions bused protesters to the Capitol building. They screamed that right-to-work hadn't been discussed enough. And when Proposal 2 was defeated, they claimed the proposal hadn't been about right-to-work.

But King's initial announcement of the proposal and his recent recap to the Metro Times of why the union pursued Proposal 2 exposes exactly the opposite.

The Metro Times published its interview with King the week of Feb. 3-8. In it, King offered up a litany of complaints the unions had about Gov. Snyder leading up the announcement of the proposal on March 2. Then he started talking about right-to-work.

"So he [Snyder] talks this moderation, but every extremist bill that [the Republican-controlled Legislature] passes — there are one or two exceptions — but overwhelmingly, he signs them," King is quoted as having said in the interview. "So we said, 'Jeez, this guy says it's not on his agenda, right-to-work, yet he's signing legislation that's more harmful to workers than right-to-work.' So he didn’t have any credibility with us at that point."

Later in the interview King made it even clearer that right-to-work was the issue the unions were concerned about when they came up with Proposal 2. In that context he concluded:

So we in labor said, 'You know, we can't just sit and wait for the lame duck, we know it's coming, this has been a 10-year, at least, effort by [Dick] DeVos and other right-wingers — the Koch brothers were also involved. So it was our leadership responsibility to try and head this off. So we put together Proposal 2.

The Metro Times then asked King the following: "So if Gov. Snyder had publicly committed not to sign right-to-work, Prop. 2 would not have been pursued?"

"That's right," King answered. 

Proposal 2 would have locked a myriad of union perks and advantages into the state constitution. Chief among them would have been a ban on Michigan ever becoming a right-to-work state. In right-to-work states, workers can not be forced to contribute dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment. Michigan is the 24th state in the nation to give workers the freedom to choose if they want to belong to a union.

King's comments about right-to-work in the Metro Times are important because the unions now are saying that there was no debate about the issue and that the law arose and was signed quickly. In fact, right-to-work bills have been introduced in the Michigan Legislature for years and the issue has been widely debated in union halls, at universities, with business groups and in communities across Michigan.

King also said in the interview that two "much more serious" laws passed by the legislature related to an attempt to unionize graduate student research assistants at the University of Michigan and home-based caregivers who were forced into a union by the SEIU. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy filed lawsuits relating to those two instances.

Nearly a year ago, when King announced the proposal, he described it as being to ban right-to-work in Michigan.

Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, began pushing for the legislature to take up right-to-work more than a year ago. After being informed of  the King interview, Shirkey said that claims that the right-to-work issue appeared out of nowhere in December are disingenuous.

"Anyone who thinks this was something that was just ginned up at the last minute in lame duck either had their head buried in the sand or is in denial," Rep. Shirkey said. "I've said from the beginning, my interest in right-to-work goes back many years.

"Further, there has been an almost immeasurable number of studies that show right-to-work will be good for Michigan's economy," he said. "The debate had been going on for a long time."

Another strong proponent of the law is Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton. He said Michigan's right-to-work law should be judged on its merits, not on distractions and rhetoric.

"That's interesting," Colbeck said, regarding King's remarks in the interview. "But when it comes down to it, this really isn't about a lot of backroom discussions and maneuvers the unions might have been involved with. To most people this is about jobs and basic rights."

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.