LANSING, Mich. - Standing in the middle of the very loud, very angry union throng outside the Michigan State capitol dome today I was reminded of one of my parent's favorite admonitions: be careful what you wish for.
Governor Rick Snyder has been telling me at every turn right to work legislation was not on his agenda since he took office and always has tried to end any inquiries as quickly as possible. He knew exactly what was waiting for him if he did get on board with it; something akin to playing piñata with a large hornet's nest! Today he broke that piñata, and all its fury, wide open.
My photographer Sunny Shields and I were waiting outside the entry underneath the capitol steps trying to get inside and see the protest going on inside where they were noisily doing what they could to prevent the Michigan House of Representatives from doing precisely what it did, pass its half of a Right to Work bill.
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The Capitol ended up on lockdown because a sizable group of protestors attempted to storm the Senate Chamber doors with just two State Police officers standing guard. Badly outnumbered, they immediately grabbed for the "chemical munitions" as their boss called them, and ended any interruptions quickly. With help they arrested eight protestors. This all happened as we were leaving a press conference and one on one interview we did with Governor Snyder across the street in downtown Lansing and did not see the fracas. In fact, we ended up waiting for nearly forty five minutes outside in line with State Police forbidding anyone to go into the capitol before media members were directed to go a back door to gain entry.
Once inside we first heard and then saw the capitol rotunda ringed with angry protestors. It was a much smaller group than we were expecting. Several hundred union protestors from Flint, Saginaw and Metro Detroit were banging on the thick concrete railings and chanting, using whistles and other noise makers. On the first floor come conducted a mini-sit-in on the backlit glass block floor. This was quite the site for several elementary school groups doing their class trips at the capitol. These are usually very tame and very quiet first exposures to Democracy, but today they received an unexpected bonus; a lesson on civics and civility! The bus or car rides home had to have been filled with questions and wonder. Thereafter, Sunny and I visited the House and Senate floors and saw business going on as usual. Outside, we interviewed a lot of angry workers dismayed at what they consider legislators reaching into their pockets. We surveyed a phalanx of police officers making certain there were no more uncontrolled outbursts.
As I spoke on the phone and in person with my Lansing source network one thing became clear, the Governor and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville did NOT want this fight. Their hands were forced. They would just as happily have waited for another day or even another year to take on this fight. But I have been told House Conservatives were so angry at UAW President Bob King's leadership behind Proposal 2 [the ballot initiative that would have prevented right to work legislation forever in the state] they wanted payback. They had the votes, the Governor knows it. He also knows if he backed down now he would lose their support on the rest of his agenda. Game over. The right to work bill will pass [excluding police and firefighters] and unless something dramatic happens the Governor will sign the bill after passage next Tuesday.
Snyder spun this as a way to attract jobs to Michigan, as a way to stay competitive with Indiana [which passed right to work earlier this year] and as a way to give workers the choice to decide whether they want to join a union instead of being forced to as a condition of employment. When it passes Michigan will become the 24th right to work state in the country. I have also been told that splitting open this piñata will have significant consequences for a lot of legislators who side with proponents. They can expect recall elections, and we voters can expect to vote on whether to keep right to work at some point in the future. There will likely be lawsuits and other blowback we have yet to imagine here.
The protests disbursed late this afternoon after the house vote; most everyone packed up and went home. No doubt the unions are already working their phone trees, ordering busses to bring more protestors to the capitol next Tuesday. Union workers from Ohio to the U.P. are probably already asking for the day off for what promises to be another loud and outraged outburst at the State Capitol. Yes, Anne and Jim Meloni had it right, be careful what you wish for. This piñata has spilled onto the legislature's floor and there is no candy to be found. Right to work will be here, the question remains how long. This fight is far from finished.
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