Union protesters in front of the Michigan Capitol on December 11 knocked down an enormous tent erected by Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-brothers-funded group that helped bring right to work to the state.
Several dozen protesters were sitting down in the Capitol Rotunda, risking arrest, and more were outside the governor’s office. Three school districts were forced to close schools because so many teachers took off for the day.
Four giant inflatable rats in the 10,000-person crowd were named for prominent Republican politicians and their richest backer. But, despite the anger and the chants, the legislature made it official.
Snyder had previously said right to work was too divisive and not on his agenda. Such laws outlaw union contracts that require all represented workers to pay dues, allowing members to resign and deplete union treasuries. United Auto Workers President Bob King, who has 151,000 members and 190,000 retirees in the state, said the governor’s about-face “blind-sided” him. But the plan to make
Writing in a blog for the Nation, Lee Fang shows that Americans for Prosperity’s
Long Time Coming
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer dates the campaign for right to work to at least 2007. A video shows former Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser speaking to a Tea Party meeting in August. Weiser, now finance chair of the Republican National Committee, describes meeting with DeVos, former Michigan Governor John Engler (now with the Business Roundtable), representatives from Americans for Prosperity, and Frank Keating, former governor of Okla- homa, which passed right to work in 2001. (The CEO of Oklahoma’s Chamber of Commerce admits he can’t name any companies that moved to
Weiser: “We hired a political consultant and I invested a bunch of money and time and I was working on that full-time from October  until March …. [After meeting with the above-named players], what we determined was that to win that election, and to be sure we were gonna win it, we couldn’t have a governor that was against it. “So we decided to wait until we had a governor. Now we have a legislature and we have a governor.”
Those elements were in place by January 2011. But Snyder and the Republican majority in the legislature held off on right to work, perhaps warned by the tumult next door in
To head off right to work and to nullify all the laws that interfered with collective bargaining, the UAW’s King and other union leaders developed an offensive plan to pass a constitutional amendment.
Proposal 2, on the ballot last month, would have made collective bargaining a constitutional right in the state.
Proposal 2 went down to defeat decisively—57 to 42 percent. It fell victim to a $30 million disinformation campaign, with ads citing the sanctity of the constitution and warning that the bill would prevent school districts from firing child molesters.
Campaign leaders were reluctant to specify any particular laws that Proposal 2 would have outlawed, according to Mark O’Keefe, a staffer for the Detroit Federation of Teachers—presumably afraid that any specific was likely to offend someone. O’Keefe thought the vagueness “created uncertainty and mistrust” among voters, and that a simple ban on right to work would have stood a better chance.
The campaign seemed to come from nowhere, in any case. It was not the result of discussion within the union base. Community allies were only approached after the decision was made.
Ray Holman, legislative liaison for the UAW’s big state employees local, thinks the proactive strategy was actually a disadvantage. He contrasted the defeat with last year’s victory in
He probably won’t have the chance to find out. Legislators attached appropriations to the right to work bills and money bills can’t be repealed by the citizens in
At the same time, O’Keefe noted that pre- election polls showed union members backing Proposal 2 by just two-thirds. “If we only get two-thirds within the unions, it’s not surprising we don’t get a majority overall,” he said.
Some now want to blame Bob King for Snyder’s initiative. If he hadn’t demonstrated to the world that unions aren’t that popular in
But it didn’t take the defeat of Proposal 2 to alert Republicans to right to work or any desire for personal revenge on Snyder’s part. The Nerd, as he likes to be known, doesn’t have that personality. More likely, he moved because the balance of votes in the legislature would shift in January. Though they retained a majority in both houses, Republicans lost five seats in the House in November and not all Republicans have been voting with the majority on right to work.
Stepping back, it is possible to partly blame the victim of this latest assault. The UAW is the leading union in
At the rally on December 11, Teamster President James Hoffa, who’s from
Jane Slaughter is editor of Labor Notes (labornotes.org) where this article first appeared.