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Latest News - March 2012

March 25, 2012
Hybrid version of Michigan right-to-work bill explored
Source: The Detroit News
By: Chad Livengood

Lansing  Proponents of a right-to-work bill are exploring a hybrid version that would eliminate union membership as a condition of employment while affirming the legal right to collectively bargain for pay, benefits and work conditions.

"We've just got to make sure we've got something that appeals to everybody," said state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton Township, the likely Senate sponsor of a right-to-work bill.

Extending an olive branch to the labor movement is the latest attempt to drum up support for the controversial legislation, which remains a hotly-debated concept nearly 15 months after Republican lawmakers who campaigned on a right-to-work agenda took control of the Legislature.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, both Republicans, have remained the biggest roadblocks to legislation that could alter Michigan's pro-union workforce by eliminating rules that require union fees or membership for certain public and private sector jobs.

"He doesn't feel right now it's the right time to pursue that issue," said Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Richardville, of Monroe. "There is just not the desire in the caucus to move forward on a right-to-work bill."

Rep. Mike Shirkey, the leading proponent of the bill in the House, said speculation in the capital city that the legislation has been shelved this year is "inaccurate." But with the November general election less than seven months away, Shirkey has not said when he will introduce the bill.

"Whenever you begin to put hard and fast timetables to things, all you're doing is setting yourself up for disappointment," said Shirkey, R-Clarklake. "I'm not going to be driven by an artificial timeframe."

Shirkey and Colbeck said they're lining up votes in the Republican-controlled House and Senate as labor unions mobilize for a political fight that could stretch into the November general election.

Labor unions are circulating petitions for a ballot initiative that would carve collective bargaining rights into the state Constitution if approved by voters. The Protect Our Jobs initiative must collect signatures from 320,000 registered voters by July 9 to get the measure on the ballot.

Led by a labor-backed group called Protect Our Jobs, the proposed constitutional amendment has delayed introduction of right-to-work legislation, Shirkey said.

Shirkey said the amendment threatens to invalidate new laws requiring public sector employees pay 20 percent of health care costs, banning university graduate assistants from unionizing and ending public school collection of union dues. Also vulnerable is the emergency manager law, which allows union contracts to be tossed out in financially-distressed schools and municipalities.

"Right now, defeating the ballot initiative becomes the No. 1 priority and everything else is subordinate to that in terms of time, strategy, planning, the whole nine yards," Shirkey told The Detroit News. "None of us will want to risk turning the clock back on those (laws) with this ballot initiative."

The amendment also could invalidate a right-to-work bill or prevent future legislation from becoming law, Shirkey said.

Even as right-to-work remains on the back burner, labor unions believe they remain the target of an anti-union, pro-business Legislature.

On March 7, the day after Protect Our Jobs launched its ballot initiative at a Capitol press conference, the GOP-run Senate suddenly fast-tracked a bill prohibiting public schools from deducting union dues from employee paychecks. The bill, which Snyder signed March 15, had been sitting in a Senate committee since late September "collecting dust," said Zack Pohl, spokesman for We Are The People, a coalition of labor and progressive groups organizing the ballot initiative.

"What we've seen since we introduced the proposal a few weeks ago is one retaliation after another against middle class workers in the state," Pohl said.

Growing impatient with the GOP-controlled Legislature, some right-to-work proponents are less optimistic Shirkey and Colbeck can introduce a bill and get it moving this year.

"The closer we get to the fall, I just don't see it happening at all," said Scott Hagerstrom, director of Americans for Prosperity-Michigan, a conservative advocacy group. "For whatever reason, a lot of Republican legislators when they're running for office say this is something they support. But when it comes time to put their money where their mouth is they don't introduce it."




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