Right-to-work law takes effect in Michigan
Right-to-work law takes effect in Michigan, a stronghold of organized labor; protesters rally
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder said a right-to-work law that took effect Thursday is a milestone that will bring jobs to Michigan, while protesters promised to exact revenge at the polls for the contentious measure Snyder signed in December. Read: Snyder signs right-to-work bills into law.
"The labor movement has done a lot of great things for our country. It's not about being anti-union in my view. It's about being pro-worker," Snyder told business and government leaders.
The law allows Michigan workers to choose not to financially support unions that bargain on their behalf. It applies to labor contracts that are extended or renewed starting Thursday, so many unionized employees will not be affected until their existing collective bargaining agreements end months or years from now.
Union organizers asked people to wear red to protest Michigan becoming the 24th right-to-work state. Dozens did so at a morning rally outside the Detroit Athletic Club, where Snyder spoke at a "Pancakes & Politics" event.
Toting a "Snyder (equals) Snake" sign, 52-year-old Detroit resident Dwight Jarrett called on the governor to repeal the law.
"If he doesn't do the right thing, we'll make sure he's out in 2014," he said.
The law cannot be overturned directly in a referendum, though unions could decide to back a 2014 ballot measure that effectively overturns it. The law's proponents expect that a ballot initiative is coming.
"In all candor, March 28th is just another day leading up to the real showdown that will take place in November 2014," said Scott Hagerstrom, director of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity-Michigan.
"Michigan could be big labor's last stand. If right-to-work can stand in Michigan, it can stand anywhere," he said.
Multiple lawsuits have been filed to strike down the law. Legal challenges in neighboring Indiana, which passed a right-to-work law in 2012, have been unsuccessful.
Snyder said during the event that right-to-work is "done" and "over with."
"This was a significant milestone. It's going to make Michigan more competitive," said Snyder, who has contended that more companies across the U.S. will consider locating in or expanding in the state. More: Michigan AG: Right-to-work applies to state employees
Democrats say right-to-work will depress wages and is nothing more than union-busting.
"We have unions to thank for the eight-hour work day, the Social Security Act, the National Labor Relations Act, the Civil Rights Act, workplace safety and the weekend as we know it. Without the labor movement, there would be no middle class," said Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor.
While the law took effect Thursday, the immediate impact may not be known for a while. Contracts between unions and Detroit automakers, for example, are effective until September 2015.
Terry Bowman, a 47-year-old assembly line worker at a Ford plant in Ypsilanti, is a member of United Auto Workers Local 898. He founded a group called Union Conservatives and worked to get the law passed because he said unions have become too political.
He is leaning toward ending his financial support of his union, but cannot do so for at least 2 ½ years.
"If they drop their political agenda and focus their efforts on the individual worker, I have no reason to drop out of the union. I'd be happy to pay for something where I am getting value for my money," Bowman said.
But Steven Strahle, a 50-year-old nurse at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, remains strongly committed to his 4,200-member union, which he has been a part of since 1999.
Strahle said he previously worked as a nurse in a non-unionized workplace.
Having a union contract helped his "ability to be an advocate for your patient without any type of retribution, having a voice to provide the quality care that you want to give to your patient every day," Strahle said.
More on right-to-work:
1-on-1 with Snyder hours after he approves right-to-work.
Rod Meloni: 'Right to Work' explained
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