Michigan 'right-to-work' protests escalate
The Detroit Free Press is reporting this morning that hundreds of union workers and protesters marched from the Lansing Center to the Michigan Capitol building, singing and chanting "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Right-to-work has got to go!"
There already were large crowds of people at the Lansing Center prior to the march, apparently having spent the night outside the building. Even Santa Claus was seen hoisting a sign with the seasonal message that the "GOP stole Christmas."
By the time the Republican state legislators vote to rescind the rule that all people who work in union shops must contribute to the union, the crowds are expected to top 10,000. If so, this will be the largest public protest Michigan’s capital city has ever experienced. Protestors, along with hordes of media, will speak to this issue which Republicans say has divided the state, although according to polls cited by Ed Schultz of MSNBC last night, upward of 96 percent of Michiganders support the union position.
One group of union members held high a large inflatable rat and hoisted it up to the top of the Capitol steps. They called it "Snyder rat." (Rick Synder is the Republican governor of Michigan who is spearheading the proposed legislation).
Three “right-to-work” bills have been “fast-tracked” through the legislature without public discussion, committee hearings or any Democratic party support whatsoever. (see the actual bills below). The bills will make it illegal to require workers to contribute to a labor union as a condition of employment. The Michigan House and Senate passed versions of the legislation last Thursday, and House officials said they expect to vote on the bills sent to them by their Senate colleagues early in today’s session.
At this writing, the House session has begun and the Capitol building has been closed because it has reached its capacity, according to Inspector Gene Adamczyk of the Michigan State Police. However, Adamczyk has also announced that despite the Capitol being "way over capacity," he would allow the police to admit 100 more people.
Members of the House began arriving at about 9:30 a.m. The gallery was filled with ordinary citizens eagle-eyeing their every move from above. Interestingly, some legislators simply stared back at the crowds or even stood at the windows taking pictures of the protesters.
"I just want to get it done," state Rep. Pete Lund, R-Shelby Township, said.
Protesters carried signs urging Snyder to act: "Snyder, veto right-to-work." Two large tents were set up on the front Capitol lawn. One tent was occupied by proponents of the right-to-work legislation. Needless to say, they were greatly outnumbered.
President Obama was in a nearby suburb just yesterday and expressed support for the workers and the unions.
As a retired paralegal and legal secretary, I have never been in a union. Lawyers are notorious for not allowing their staffers to organize. In fact, I once worked for a law firm in Chicago that represented a couple of very large unions. Yet that law firm would not allow its own employees to unionize.
And so, I am somewhat ambivalent about this issue. Most of my family members have always worked as union members, and I have therefore personally benefited from my family’s membership therein. The same may be said of almost any job. Even non-union offices, factories, shops, etc., still benefit from the organizational work and pressure that union shops apply to employers. They benefit by causing non-union employers to have to meet union standards, whether in matters of pay, or health benefits, or working conditions in general.
Therefore, it may only be fair to require workers of a known union shop to pay dues to the union. If they refuse to do so, will they accept lower pay, fewer vacation days, lesser health benefits, poorer working conditions? I think not.
In reality, what is going on in Lansing today is the mirror image of the fight in Madison, Wisc., earlier this year. There, similar “right-to-work” legislation was foisted upon workers despite massive protest as well. These are not very transparent attempts by Republicans to break the last vestiges of organized “people power” in this nation-state. Unions and their membership tend to be Democratic Party members as well.
There is even an element of “sour grapes” and “poor loser” syndrome at work here. Republicans are still licking their wounds from their losses at the polls last month. Many see this move to destroy unions as a type of “backlash” or retributive comeuppance and reaction against the recent Democratic Party onslaught.
READ THE RIGHT-TO-WORK BILLS: