As hard as Michigan’s winters can hit, so has our latest lame duck session.
Before last December, there were 23 states with fair bargaining bans, also known as “right to work” states. Sadly, the cradle of labor holds the title as number 24. On December 11th, the Michigan legislature rammed through numerous controversial bills, exploiting the advantage of a lame duck session.
Through a shameful display of cowardice, they passed so-called “right to work” legislation in record time with no debate in both the State House and Senate, no committee hearings and with a $1 million appropriation attached to it, effectively making it impossible to bring this issue to the voters in an election. “Why can’t you take this to the voters? Because you know what will happen. You’re doing this in the lame duck because you know in the next session you won’t have the votes!” Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids).
The Republicans chose to ignore their constituents, and rolled back decades of workers’ rights that many made deep sacrifices to achieve.
Now that the lame duck session is over, a new legislative session has begun. Along with it come concerns that banning fair bargaining in Michigan isn’t far enough for Republican legislators. The threat of privatization hangs over the heads of teachers and staff in our public schools. Possible efforts to roll back MIOSHA, the state agency overseeing worker safety, could make workplaces across Michigan even more unsafe.
But currently what concerns Working America’s members in Michigan the most is the repeal of Prevailing Wages. In government contracting, a prevailing wage is defined as the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid to the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics within a particular area. These standards are crucial and necessary to provide a livable and fair wage to skilled workers that build our roads, highways, schools and other government funded projects.
When you eliminate the prevailing wage standard, it encourages contractors to take short cuts. It compromises work quality, increases injury rates and lost work time, and results in higher maintenance costs.
This will also bring more outsourcing into Michigan. Predatory contractors will gain the incentive to underbid established businesses by using unskilled or low-skilled workers that come from other parts of the country who are willing to work for less than the local labor market is paying.
Our organizers have been reaching out to members, and overwhelmingly they agree that this is the wrong direction to go.
“The state of Michigan’s economy is very important and fair wages must be paramount for the workers. As a stay at home mom it is important that the wages of my husband be protected. You can protect prevailing wage laws. Please keep the wages with the workers” says member Trisha Zessler of Monroe.
Rich CEO’s and their lobbyists would like to make you think that repealing prevailing wage would save taxpayers money. But in reality, it will cost us more in the long run. Pension plans that were previously privately covered will force tax payers to pick up the tab. Roads that were constructed and repaired by qualified and highly skilled workers will be built with lower standards, making it more likely to need repairs sooner and be replaced frequently. And you can count on dramatically slashed wages for our workers.
This is the last thing that we need here in Michigan. This isn’t carrying the message of more jobs. Instead, it is clearly sending a message that we deserve to be paid less and put more of our hard earned tax dollars in the pockets of rich CEO’s.
Right before the November election, every polling outfit showed the same thing: Even as Michigan voters moved to reelect Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and Democratic President Barack Obama, opinion of Republican Governor Rick Snyder, remained fairly high.
Despite controversial policies like the emergency manager law, Public Policy Polling found that 47 percent of Michiganders approved of Snyder’s performance while only 37 percent disapproved.
Today, PPP found that only 38 percent of Michigan voters approved of Snyder while 58 percent disapprove – that’s a net drop of 28 percent. And if the 2014 election was held today, Snyder would lose badly to any of his potential Democratic opponents.
There’s a fair amount of sniping every time a new poll comes out, but here’s what’s important: Snyder is in trouble with the voters for policies he and allies claim are popular.
But that’s not the case: Michiganders want action to create jobs, improve their schools, and have more money in their pocket at the end of the day. Snyder has used this lame duck session to do the exact opposite.
From November 7 to December 18, Gov. Snyder shed his image of a centrist, business-oriented decision-maker to reveal the corporate-backed, anti-worker ideologue underneath. Here is how that revelation happened:
Gov. Snyder did a 180 on workers’ rights and signed a so-called “right to work” (for less) bill into law, banning free bargaining in Michigan. He had previously testified to Congress in February that the issue was too divisive.
Snyder also allowed the legislature to inoculate themselves against the recall process, which is one of the only actions voters can take to express disapproval (especially when legislators don’t reveal their true agenda before the election).
About a month after a referendum repealed Snyder’s undemocratic emergency manager policy, which allows state takeover of local governments, Snyder signed a new one into law.
Also in the poll, PPP found that 51 percent oppose the free bargaining ban (including 50 percent of independents), and that 40 would vote to repeal it by referendum if given the chance.
And before you go thinking that this is a skewed, biased, or otherwise unreliable poll, remember this: Public Policy Polling was the most accurate pollster of the 2012 cycle, according to study by Fordham University.
Last week, we saw an unprecedented attack on our working rights by Governor Snyder and Republican lawmakers in Lansing.
The Michigan State House and State Senate have already passed “right to work” legislation, and it could get to Governor Snyder’s desk as soon as tomorrow.
But we can’t go quietly.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, December 11, thousands of working people from across the Great Lakes State will gather at the Capitol in Lansing to tell lawmakers that unions built Michigan’s middle class, and all workers benefit from unions’ gains.
Governor Snyder has made it clear that he’ll sign this legislation when it reaches his desk. And that may be true, but we need to let him know that Michiganders elected him to create jobs and protect the middle class, not to attack us.
This is really it. We need to get as many people to Lansing tomorrow as possible, and we’re counting on you to make it.
1.) The Michigan House and Senate yesterday passed so-called “right to work” bills.“Right to work” laws effectively defund the ability of workers to have a voice at their workplace. In 23 other states, these laws have lowered wages, weakened benefits, raised the poverty rate, and led to increased workplace injuries and deaths. The House passed one such bill and the Senate passed two.
2.) Republican leaders in Michigan were not honest about their intent. The morning began with Governor Rick Snyder reversing his earlier position on the “right to work.” He had previously said that the bill was “not on his agenda,” and that it was a divisive issue – but then yesterday, he suddenly urged the House and Senate to pass the bill and said he would sign it when it reached his desk. Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville previously opposed “right to work,” but expressed support for it on Thursday morning.
3.) There were no committee hearings concerning the bills. With an issue this controversial, this is a highly unusual move. Republicans avoided the need for committee hearings by changing the intent of a previously passed bill.
4.) There was no floor debate concerning the bill. Another highly unusual move, considering the high profile “right to work” bill. But Republicans took advantage of their majority by ending debate on the bill before it started.
6.) The public was not allowed inside the Capitol Building to observe the proceedings. Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger locked down the Capitol, locking approximately 3,000 Michiganders outside. It took a court order requested by Democrats to get the building opened again, but even then the Republican-controlled House did not pause their proceedings.
8.) The “right to work” bill is rigged so that it can’t be repealed. Republicans inserted a $1 million appropriation on the bill, which under Michigan law precludes it from being overturned by a citizen referendum. As blogger Chris Savage wrote, “not only was there no opportunity for public input before the bills were voted on, there will be none afterwards, as well.”
2.) If you are in Michigan,you can call your State Senator now using our “click-to-call” system. Even if you don’t know who your Senator is, you can enter your address and get connected to the right person
Three weeks ago, Mitt Romney lost the state of Michigan by almost 10 percentage points. This week, Michigan Republicans are trying to pass one of his economic policies while no one is looking.
Republicans in the Michigan legislature are seeking to take advantage of their pre-election majorities to sneak through a “right to work” (RTW) bill, which would ban union security clauses and harm the ability of workers to bargain with their employers. In states with RTW laws on the books, wages are lower, benefits are fewer, and workplace injuries and fatalities are more common. (Learn more.)
The possibility of so-called Right-to-Work legislation (also called “Right to Work for Less” by opponents) is sucking almost all the oxygen out of the capitol. A bunch of Republican heavyweights, mostly business types from the west side of the state, are fiercely lobbying legislators to take quick advantage of big GOP majorities in both the House and Senate and pass it once and for all.
One man has the power to stop all of this. No, not Governor Rick Snyder, who said RTW is “not on his agenda” but hasn’t said he wouldn’t sign a bill if it reached his desk. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) has previously said he would not support RTW, but is feeling pressure from donors, Tea Party activists, and right-wing members of his caucus. He is the chair of the Government Operations Committee that could take up the RTW issue this week.
We don’t agree with Sen. Richardville on every issue, but we certainly respect that he has opposed RTW in the past. He needs to know that Michganders want more jobs, not fewer rights.
In a 4-3 decision, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the proposed repeal of the state’s “emergency financial manager” (EFM) law, also known as Public Act 4, must be placed on the November ballot. The law is suspended until the question is considered by the state election board.
Organizers, activists, and volunteers collected over 200,000 signatures – about 40,000 more than required – in order to get the chance to undo the anti-democratic law. Public Act 4 allows the governor to appoint “emergency financial managers” who can take over entire towns, cities, and school districts. Such a law had been on the books for years, but Governor Rick Snyder and the Republican legislator made it tougher in 2011, allowing the EFM’s to cancel collective bargaining contracts and override the decisions of local governments.
Already, the cities of Benton Harbor, Flint, Ecorse, and Pontiac have EFM’s, as do the Detroit Public Schools, the Highland Park Schools, and the Muskegon Heights School District.
It hasn’t been pretty. One of the first actions of Pontiac EFM Lou Schimmel was to dissolve the union contract with the city’s firefighters, giving out pink slips on Christmas Eve. Schimmel also fired the city’s director of public works and gave control to a federally-indicted company called United Water. Those two examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to EFM actions over the past year, which read like fake headlines from a dystopian novel – closed schools, canceled contracts, a privatization free-for-all, and even proposals to combine police and fire departments to save money. (Chris Savage at Eclectablog has done extensive coverage of EFM abuses.)
With 200,000 signatures in hand, organizers faced another obstacle: a Tea Party group calling itself Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility challenged their submission, ridiculously, over the size of the font used on the petitions, which doesn’t comply with Michigan law.
At first, it seemed to have worked, and Michiganders were left living under a banana republic-like system with no recourse because of font size. That’s not what democracy looks like.
Luckily, four Michigan Supreme Court judges agreed, including Republican nominee Justice Mary Beth Kelly. The next step is a confirmation from the Board of Canvassers, and then the tough work of campaigning to repeal the law begins.
Want to join the fight? Become a Working America Michigan activist here.
Some Michigan Republicans have been pressuring Governor Snyder to get behind a right to work bill in Michigan but he wants nothing to do with it, reiterating during congressional testimony yesterday that it would just bring everything to a grinding halt in Lansing.
The political situations in all of these states are different, but fortunately they are all tougher terrain for union-busting bills than Indiana.
Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich has not expressed interest in making “right-to-work” a priority, especially after his similarly anti-worker Senate Bill 5 got overwhelmingly spanked last year at the polls. “If people in this state feel that you need right-to-work, I don’t think people even know what that is,” Kasich said. That’s politician code for “please, leave me out of this.”
Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder is trying to position himself as the moderate of the freshman bunch. Talking about the backlashes in Wisconsin and Ohio, Snyder indicated he doesn’t want a similar situation in Lansing. “If you want to draw it as a contrast, you look at now that they’ve had those things happen, do they have a productive environment to solve problems? Not necessarily,” he told the Huffington Post, “They’re still overcoming the divisiveness, the hard feelings from all of that.”
And thanks in part to Working America pounding the pavement in 2010, Minnesota working families have an ally in Governor Mark Dayton, who opposes right to work. However, he doesn’t have the power to veto constitutional amendments proposed by the majority of the legislature. The current effort by Republican legislators is to put the issue on the November ballot.
All these efforts pale in comparison to Arizona’s blitzkrieg against public unions that caught workers by surprise this week. A series of bills were introduced late at night on Monday and passed out of committee just 48 hours later – including a Wisconsin-style bill that would ban unions from representing any state, county, or municipal employee.
A high profile New York Times piece talked about Republican governors moderating their agendas in 2012. We’ll believe it when we see it. For now, all we’re seeing is a continuation of 2011’s all-out war on workers, and a complete nationwide negligence of the jobs and unemployment crisis.
2011 was a big year for citizens amassing enormous numbers of signatures in order to undo injustice – see Ohio’s 1.3 million names to repeal Senate Bill 5 as the prime example. Driving the citizen outrage in neighboring Michigan is Public Act 4 of 2011, more commonly known as the Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) Law.
Governor Rick Snyder and his allies in the legislature all ran in 2010 on the principles of “small government,” but once in office pushed the most “big government” policies possible. PA 4 allowed the state to strip away local control from cities and towns and hand the reins over to an Emergency Financial Manager – appointed by Gov. Snyder.
President AFSCME Council 25 Al Garrett, who has been instrumental in the petition drive to suspend Public Act 4, announced the campaign has gathered “in excess of 170,000″ signatures.
He said the petitioners are looking to Jan. 18 as the day to take their petitions to Lansing. They hope to gather more than the required number — just shy of 162,000 — in order to ensure enough valid signatures.
Garrett finished with a fiery speech to get out the petition drive:
“Stand up, look the man in the eye and say, ‘Not on my watch,’” he said.
“Our mothers and fathers fought all of the right of one thing: self determination. It would be unacceptable and unnecessary for black folk in the city of Detroit, for white folk in Ann Arbor … to allow anybody that was elected by chance to dictate what happens in their community.”
Under the EFM law, managers have made unilateral decisions that fly in the face of the wishes of the residents of the municipalities they are allegedly trying to fix. Just one example: In Pontiac, Michigan, EFM Michael Stampfler canceled a union contract for police dispatchers last June; now, he is giving Pontiac firefighters the choice of merging with the neighboring town’s fire department or losing their jobs outright.
In Benton Harbor, one of Michigan’s poorest cities, EFM Joseph Harris came under a great deal of scrutiny after disrespectful comments about the city’s residents were caught on tape. When Working America canvassers came to Benton Harbor, we found enormous dissatisfaction with the situation. Residents couldn’t understand why Governor Snyder was giving them a false choice – dictatorship or dysfunction? 85 percent of people we talked to became members of Working America during our canvass there.
The possibility of an EFM in Detroit is the last straw for many Michganders. Hundreds of citizens, labor leaders, and lawmakers gathered Monday to protest the dictatorial threat.
So will this undemocratic, hugely unpopular policy be repealed in Michigan? Republican legislators are hoping not. That’s why they are “retooling” so that it will still be in effect even if a referendum makes it to the ballot. Seems that for the Michigan GOP, democracy is only okay if things go their way.
Buried in the news of the Wisconsin recall efforts and the fight against Issue 2 in Ohio was Michigan, which has been experiencing its own round of recall turmoil. A recent court decision gave new hope to the recall of State Representative Paul Scott, who has been pushing extreme anti-teacher initiatives in the legislature.
Some quick background: In the state where freshman Governor Rick Snyder has been quietly encroaching on local democracy and workers’ rights with his Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) law and lawmakers have supported taxes on retiree pensions and huge cuts to stats aid and schools, dissatisfaction among voters of both parties sparked efforts this past summer to recall almost every eligible legislator.
As Michigan blogger Chris Savage tallies, 47 out of 148 Michigan legislators have been targeted for recall since the spring, 27 Republicans and 20 Democrats. While many of those efforts are still underway, the recall of Paul Scott in the 51st District is the only one to gather enough signatures to make the November 8 ballot.
Rep. Paul Scott has used his position as Chairman of the House Education Committee to push through House Bill 4466, which says “if one or more public school employees strike, their union would be kicked out for five years.” Not only that, but a parent could report “strike activity,” and the union could be decertified even if no strike occurred. This is on top of House Bill 4052, under which teachers could literally go to prison for sending a union-related email over school servers. In a state with over 11 percent unemployment, constituents of the 51st district were scratching their heads and asking themselves how treating teachers like criminals would create jobs in Michigan.
Since Michiganders like their public school teachers, Paul Scott’s “big government” overreach didn’t sit well with them. A grassroots group calling themselves the Citizens Against Government Overreach collected 12,253 signatures in 14 days.
Then things got complicated. Rep. Scott filed an appeal with the circuit court on the basis that the recall language was “vague.” After the circuit court refused to the stop the recall, the Court of Appeals bounced it back to the circuit court, which ruled in Scott’s favor the second time around.
The point is, Rep. Paul Scott will have to face the voters this November for his divisive, anti-education agenda, as well as his support for Gov. Snyder’s overreach. It’s a good day for jobs and democracy in Michigan – and besides, when it comes to recalling bad politicians, why should Wisconsin get to have all the fun?