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Thousands Protest Michigan’s Right-to-Work (for Less) Bills

by Clyde Weiss  |  December 11, 2012

Michigan protest
According to news reports, an estimated 10,000 people crowded outside the Michigan state Capitol, with another 2,500 inside the building.

Lansing, Mich. – Thousands of Michigan citizens descended on the state Capitol on Tuesday to show their outrage over efforts by corporate-driven legislators to pass a divisive right-to-work (for less) measure that Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law this afternoon.

Despite suffering the indignity of being pepper-sprayed by police officers, the crowd of demonstrators refused to back down. An estimated 10,000 people crowded outside the Capitol, with another 2,500 inside the building, according to news reports. See videos of the demonstration here.

Chants of “This is our house!” and “Kill the bill!” echoed loudly throughout the morning as demonstrators urged lawmakers to reject the measures. Their energy was sustained not only by their determination to stop Michigan from following in the footsteps of Wisconsin and Indiana – where workers’ rights have also been trampled upon – but also by the hot dogs and energy bars dispersed from an AFSCME tent set up outside the Capitol.

Yet Republican majorities of both houses rammed through two separate bills to create a right-to-work law for both public and private-sector unions. Each was approved by House votes of 58-51, and 58-52, respectively.Governor Snyder signed the legislation behind closed doors, and only after protesters who had filled the Capitol all day headed home after the long day of action.

Pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council and the billionaire Koch brothers, so-called right to work (RTW) laws do not guarantee a right to work. Instead, they “make it illegal for a group of unionized workers to negotiate a contract that requires each employee who enjoys the benefits of the contract terms to pay his or her share of costs for negotiating and policing the contract,” wrote Heidi Shierholz and Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute in a report on the negative economic impact of such laws on workers.

Gov. Rick Snyder and his Republican supporters in the Legislature claim that this measure is intended to improve the state’s economy, and pointed to Indiana, which he said “had a strong experience” after passing similar legislation. But data “suggests that there is little reason to think RTW has significantly impacted job growth,” according to a new Economic Policy Institute report.

When President Barack Obama said Monday that this debate has nothing to do with economics, he was stating an obvious truth. Collective bargaining improves wages and benefits, putting more money into the hands of working families so that they can feed, clothe and house their children and buy the merchandise – including Detroit’s automobiles – that make it possible for a state’s economy to prosper.

Snyder insisted his goal “isn’t to divide Michigan, it is to bring Michigan together.” But we see through that subterfuge, and so do many of the state’s lawmakers. This debate isn’t about improving the state’s economy. Rep. Steven Lindberg, D-Marquette, put his finger directly on Snyder’s real purpose. “This bill is about breaking unions,” he said.

Lawmakers who vote against workers’ rights can be defeated at the polls, but our union will not be broken by right-wing extremists. AFSCME will keep on fighting for the rights of the working middle class, including the basic right to collective bargaining. It’s our mission, and our promise.

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