News Column

Mich. House Passes Contentious 'Right-to-work' Bills

Dec. 11, 2012

Kathleen Gray and Paul Egan

Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder
Mich. Gov. Rick Snyder

The state House of Representatives voted 58-51 today to pass a right-to-work bill for public employees and voted 58-52 on a bill for private sector workers.

Both right-to-work bills have already passed the Senate. Once the House passes them, all is needed is Gov. Rick Snyder's signature and Michigan becomes the 24th right-to-work state.

In a parliamentary manuever, the House Republicans asked for a reconsideration of the bill to keep Democrats from asking for the same thing, which would have delayed final passage until Wednesday. Technically, the Republicans could remove that request later today and the bills will automatically head to Snyder.

As the debate raged inside, the sounds of drums and shouts from protesters outside could be heard. And right after the vote, the gallery started shouting "shame on you."

A large number of protesters were seated on the floor of the Capitol rotunda at 12:30 p.m., chanting, "Veto," and "One term nerd."

There was a muted reaction in the Capitol rotunda to the vote earlier, as protesters continued singing "Solidarity" until word filtered around that it had passed. Then there were loud boos and chants of, "Veto!"

Democrats quoted everyone from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Steve Jobs to bolster their pleas to kill the bill, which would make it illegal to require a financial contribution to a union as a condition of employment.

"Victory will be ours in the end," state Rep. Shanelle Jackson, D-Detroit, said as she railed against the bill. "Our weapon is our vote."

But state Rep. Lisa Lyons, R-Alto, said the historic vote was about freedom and choice.

She voted for the right to work bill, but said her family will continue to remain a "proud union family," by choice.

"We are witnessing history in the making," she said. "This is the day that Michigan freed its workers."

Minority Floor Leader State Rep. Richard Hammel, D-Mount Morris Township, started the right to work debate in the House with a peek into his heritage as a third generation member of the UAW.

"My grandfather was a sit-downer in Flint," he said, referring to sit down strikes that spurred the union movement. "He passed away Dec. 7, 1987, and today, he would be brokenhearted. Does he sound like a union thug?"

Democrats tried to attach amendments to the right-to-work bills that would at least remove the appropriation attached to the legislation, allowing for a statewide vote on the issue.

The right-to-work bills speeding through the Legislature without public discussion, committee hearings or any Democratic support, would make it illegal to require financial support of a labor union as a condition of employment. The state House and Senate passed versions of the legislation last Thursday, and House officials said they expect to vote on the bills sent to them by their Senate colleagues.


-- Senate Bill 116

-- House Bill 4003

-- House Bill 4054

"It's merely a subterfuge, to deprive the people of this great state," state Rep. Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, said of the legislation. "As we can all see from the spectacle outside, this is a very divisive issue for our state."

But Republicans in the House didn't allow for roll call votes on the amendments, leading to speeches on the House floor.

"The next two years are going to be ugly. I think we should pause and take a step back," state Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, said.

Other House Democrats also are now making statements in opposition to right-to-work. Some Republican proponents also are speaking in favor of the bills, saying the legislation is about freedom of choice for Michigan workers.

State Rep Jeff Farrington, R- Utica, said: "I did not ask for this vote. And I certainly didn't ask for a fight. But I will not be intimidated ... I am the voice for those that placed their students first and stayed in the classroom (referring to teachers that came to Lansing to protest) ... I am the voice for those that will be labeled freeloaders because others are intolerant of their views ...

"After this vote, the silent majority will have a voice."

Source: (c)2012 the Detroit Free Press Distributed by MCT Information Services

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