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Michigan eyes right-to-work measure

Unions battling to avoid second loss

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LANSING, Mich. — Having just helped torpedo a labor-backed move that would have enshrined collective-bargaining rights in the state's constitution, emboldened Republican lawmakers are considering a move to make this historic bastion of union power into the nation's 24th right-to-work state.

The possible push in the state Legislature's lame-duck session has already sparked a battle, as a coalition of about 300 AFL-CIO members as well as a contingent from the state police descended on the Statehouse in Lansing on Thursday to lobby lawmakers against a measure they fear could dramatically limit their influence.

Unions have taken to social media to rally support against the right-to-work measure, which greatly curtails the ability of unions to require membership and dues from workers as a condition of their employment. Labor forces are seeking to rebound after suffering a stinging blow Nov. 6 when Proposal 2, which would have guaranteed the right to collective bargaining, was rejected by voters by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin.

In February, Indiana became the Rust Belt's first state — and the 23rd nationwide — to approve a right-to-work law, even as thousands of labor supporters packed the Statehouse in Indianapolis and staged protests again the measure.

Already in Michigan, some Democratic strategists are threatening recall efforts against lawmakers who support a future right-to-work bid, although similar vows of retribution didn't pan out in Indiana, where Republicans increased their hold on the state General Assembly earlier this month.

In the Michigan House, Rep. Mike Shirkey, a Republican from Clark Lake, said this week that he is gauging the support on whether to introduce a right-to-work bill and claimed to be making "good progress," but said he doesn't want to put it up for a vote it until he knows all factions are aboard.

"The legislation is already prepared — been prepared for a long time," Mr. Shirkey told the news website Mlive.com on Wednesday. "But I will not put it up until I know that all the 'I's are dotted and 'T's are crossed, primarily from a standpoint of support — both here in the House, and in the Senate and the governor's office."

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger and his counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Randy Richardville, met on the measure Thursday, but put off action as talks continue.

One big question mark is whether Mr. Snyder, the state's independent-minded GOP governor, would sign the measure. He has said in the past that the issue of right-to-work is divisive and not key to his economic-reform agenda. But some think, if the Republican-controlled Legislature were to pass a measure, the governor would sign it, even in the face of intense union opposition.

In Michigan, union workers made up 17.6 percent of the labor workforce, up from a low of 16.6 in 2010, but far lower than the 22.1 percent it boasted just 10 years before in 2001, according to the website unionstats.com. New York had the highest percentage of union workers in 2011 with 24.1 percent, but some of the labor movement's greatest battles — including organizing the car companies — were waged here.

Political economist Gordon Lafer of the pro-labor Economic Policy Institute said right-to-work laws lower average income for union and nonunion workers alike by about $1,500 a year, as well as lowering the likelihood of workers receiving health insurance or a pension.

In a statement released by the state AFL-CIO, Bay City teacher Rick Meeth said, "Every working person in Michigan should be concerned about the contents of this right-to-work bill and question how quickly it is moving."

But Vincent Vernuccio, the director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich. said that, overall, "if you just look at the economic growth, the job growth, the wage growth in right-to-work states, you see that these states are doing much better."

He added, "Michigan is the only state in the country during the last census to lose population. ... Forced unionism is even hurting itself and its stronghold."

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