INTRO: Michigan is now a right to work state. It’s illegal for unions to require workers to pay union dues. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus was at the Capitol in Lansing yesterday. He sent this report.
Protesters knew that Governor Snyder was ready to sign the two right to work bills. Some stood on the Capitol lawn. They looked up two stories to face the chamber of the house of representatives.
They chanted “kill the bill. Kill the bill.”
Down on the ground a centuries old scenario played out. One set of workers sought better pay and working conditions. The other set of workers, hired as security men to protect those in power, used riot gear to push the other workers away.
“Shame On You. Shame On You!” the protesters chanted.
One man said, “They started coming and pushing the horses in. We were ten feet away from the building. They come in and started running the horses through there and knocking us out of the way when we weren’t even touching anything. They sprayed mace. They started spraying pepper spray. It’s ridiculous. They call themselves union guys. They’re not union. I’ll never support the police again.”
Up inside the building, House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) talked to a mob of reporters.
“Today is a game changer. Today is ground breaking. The future of Michigan has never been brighter. That is because our workers are free and our kids will have options in the future. Today means new jobs and better careers for Michigan workers. Today means more freedom for those workers to determine which of those organizations they want to choose. Today is a great day.”
A lawyer for the construction trades told me this is big government interfering with the private workplace. Speaker Bolger says he’s not worried about anyone fighting him because of the right to work legislation.
“We’re going to fight for Michigan workers. We’re going to fight for Michigan jobs. We’re going to focus on that and do the job that people elected us to do.”
Proposal 2 was rejected by voters in the November election. 58% against and just 42% for it. It would have written collective bargaining rights and obligatory union dues into the state constitution.
“As I’ve talked to the voters throughout my district, as I’ve talked to voters throughout the state I’m confident that they expressed their will with proposal 2. They’ll continue to express their will that workers are free to make their choice and that they’ll continue to express their support for us continuing to work for their future.”
Bolger may not have spoken with the 12,000 union workers who came to protest right to work laws. Mike Aaron is with Laborers’ Union 1191 in Detroit. He says right to work means cheap labor and that won’t help the economy.
“If that was so true why don’t they go and visit Oklahoma. Back in 2001 they were one of the original states that adopted right to work. The statistics show that wages are at least $6,000 cheaper than a state that is free to organize. Right to work no good for Michigan. It’s a race to the bottom. Everyone knows it and they (republican politicians) know it.”
Sunday night in Ferndale, a friend of a friend in a bar told me the unions are reaping what they sow. The friend said UAW president Bob King makes $800,000. King was in the street in Lansing yesterday. His aides told me he makes $140,000. Some Michiganders say that unions just buy votes with their money. Chuck Kukawka is the financial secretary of Bricklayers Union local 1 in Warren. He’s says their political action money can’t buy much.
“It’s a very small fund. Right now there are probably $2,000-$3,000 in a fund for all the candidates in the state of Michigan. You have to specifically donate to this fund so there’s only maybe 20-30 people that do that out of the 2,500 members. That’s what you use for political action. You can’t use your dues money to support political candidates. You have to have a political action committee to do that. So we put that out there and people who want to donate do. But it’s a small amount.”
Geraldine Blankenship is 91 years old. She addressed the crowd in a wheelchair. Her father was in the sit down strike against General Motors in Flint in 1936. The strike gave birth to the United Auto Workers.
“Let’s not let all those things they worked so hard for and the beatings that he took from the company people, let’s not let that go to waste. Let’s keep this union going. If you want right to work then you work for nothing. It’s an awful thing. I’m sure the men who would sign that paper didn’t have to be hungry. I was raised during the depression. We didn’t have much to eat sometimes. I would imagine the man who signs that paper should be so ashamed.”
Flint is still a union town even though it has lost 50% of its population and 90% of its GM workers. Jeff Bean is a public school teacher there.
“Why did unions begin? Because greed. drove the wealthy to abuse workers and put profit above safety and decency and respect. I ask you the people. Does greed still exist in this world. Then we still need unions. We must still have unions. We must still have unions, a collaboration of all working people banded together to fight the few who can’t see tomorrow over the pile of their money that they think will keep them safe. My sisters and brothers: stay strong, fight long.”
Local musicians lifted the protestors’ spirits with old songs. But only 12,000 people showed up in solidarity. Wisconsin had 100,000 at their capitol last year. Perhaps Jase Bolger is right. The numbers don’t work in unions favor any more.
For more on the pros and cons of right to work around the country see The Center For Michigan’s reporting this week.