He forged a reputation as a moderate, can-do businessman-politician, but Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has taken a leap into the political unknown by embracing a right-to-work bill that has put him at the center of an ideological battle with the state’s powerful union movement that shows no signs of dying down in the weeks ahead.
With President Obama, who openly criticized the right-to-work drive, set to visit Detroit on Monday, opinions are sharply divided over the wisdom of the Republican push to make this longtime bastion of union strength into the nation’s 24th right-to-work state.
Unions and Democrats suffered one of their biggest legislative defeats in years as bills that would undercut a key source of labor funding sailed through both houses of the state Legislature last week. Right-to-work opponents sought this weekend for legal and procedural loopholes that ultimately might defeat any future law, including recall efforts, against lawmakers who led the right-to-work fight as well as legal challenges to tie up the law in court.
But the state’s business leaders, sensing victory, said they were buoyed by the likely passage of the bills, calling right-to-work key to accelerating the state’s economic resurgence after a long period of stagnation and decline.
If Mr. Snyder, a former high-tech executive and venture capitalist elected two years ago, faces a divisive fight by promising to sign the bill, the rhetoric-eschewing governor seems undaunted.
“When you talk about giving workers the freedom to choose, isn’t that something we should all be behind? Not being put in the position where people are forced to send them dues because they are wanting to keep jobs?” Mr. Snyder told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto on Friday, saying he was excited to get the law onto the books.
Right-to-work laws prohibit requiring employees to join a union or pay fees similar to union dues as a condition of employment. Michigan’s law would exempt police officers and firefighters in unions.
The Midwest has been the site of pitched battles over union power in recent years, most notably a failed recall drive in June against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, after he took on the public-sector unions.
Mr. Snyder shrugged off the possibility that his embrace of the right-to-work law would leave him vulnerable to a recall vote as well.
“That just comes with the territory,” he said Friday. “It’s whatever creates jobs in our state. We’re the comeback state. This is another element of Michigan moving forward and really reinventing our state.”
One thing seems certain. Labor forces and their supporters are not going down quietly, even though the governor may have the bill on his desk by the end of the week.
Union activists mustered on Saturday near Detroit to train members from the United Auto Workers, the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers and other labor groups in civil disobedience. Thousands of protesters, including many from out of state, are poised to descend on the Statehouse in Lansing as early as Monday, a day aheadof the resumption of the lame-duck session of the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Meanwhile, right-to-work supporters continued their efforts. The Michigan Freedom Fund ran a $1 million ad campaign to muster support for the law, which they say offers choice to workers to decide whether they want to join a union shop.
About 17.5 percent of Michigan workers are unionized, marking a slide for labor in this heavily manufacturing state and following a national trend. Right-to-work laws have been enacted in 23 states, including most recently neighboring Indiana.