Michigan excludes police and fire unions from “right to work”

December 12, 2012

Lansing, Michigan is aflame with the anger of union workers who object to how state officials have rammed “right-to-work” legislation through the state house. “Right-to-work” would end the requirement that workers join a union in their workplace if it is unionized. Union workers are especially incensed that the legislation was pushed through during a lame duck session without hearings or debate. The Detroit Free Press reports:

[State Rep. David Rutledge, (D-Ypsilanti)] and many other House Dems decried the manner in which the bills were introduced and passed with no committee hearings or public debate.

“For such a significant policy change that will have lasting repercussions to be taken up with no meaningful debate is absolutely shameful,” said state Rep. Woodrow Stanley, (D-Flint).

The legislation covers public and private unions, but there is a very odd exemption that carves out a special preference for unionized police and fire workers. The Detroit News tells us:

Governor Rick Snyder and Republican legislative leaders say they’ve exempted 6,000 police and 5,000 firefighter union members from having a choice whether to financially support their union because of special collective bargaining rights in state law and the constitution.

They also expressed concerns about creating divisions within the paramilitary ranks of first responders who rely on each other in life-and-death situations.

A Michigan political commentator pointed out that police and fire unions are contributors to Republican and Democratic politicians, according to the News:

Bill Ballenger, publisher of the Lansing newsletter Inside Michigan Politics, said the nature of their [police and fire unions] work can be a powerful political force in individual legislative districts, and their political action committees make campaign contributions to Democrat and Republican politicians alike.

The logic that Republicans are using to push “right-to-work” contradicts the rationale for imposing this new law on all other unionized workers:

In arguing for a right-to-work law, Snyder and GOP leaders acknowledged it could create divisions in firehouses and police departments if union membership or fees was optional — as will become the case for all other unionized workplaces when Snyder signs the bill.

“These are men and women who must respond and rely on each other in ways no other union must,” said Speaker Pro-tem John Walsh, (R-Livonia).

But other unionized workers who work on utility poles, high-rise steel construction and in county jails and state prisons also rely on co-workers to stay alive, Nickelhoff said.

“If that were really the reason, they would at least include corrections officers,” said Nickelhoff, general counsel of the Michigan State AFL-CIO. Despite the exemption, police and firefighter unions remain opposed to the bills, some officials said.

The actions of Michigan Republicans were rushed and poorly considered. Making such big changes in state law should not be done without thorough debate of the pros and cons of the issue.

Further: Michigan State Police Troopers Association:   Collective bargaining agreement for Michigan state police

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