Michigan May End Mandatory Union Dues in Labor Bastion

Michigan, home to carmakers and labor’s United Auto Workers, may ban mandatory union-dues payments if Republicans who run the Legislature pass such a law, making it the 24th U.S. right-to-work state.

The issue has inflamed organized labor, which lost a costly ballot campaign in November to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. Unions have urged members to visit the capitol personally to lobby lawmakers on the issue.

“Right-to-work is on the agenda; we are having discussions on it,” Republican Governor Rick Snyder told reporters in Lansing yesterday after emerging from a meeting with the party’s legislative leaders. “We haven’t made any decisions.”

A compromise may be forged with unions on the issue by tomorrow, averting a vote. No right-to-work legislation has been introduced for consideration in the lame-duck session that ends later this month. If such a measure passed, Michigan would become the second Midwest industrial state to adopt a mandatory dues ban in the past year, following Indiana in February.

Snyder previously dismissed the issue as divisive and “not on my agenda,” while stopping short of saying he’d veto a right-to-work bill. Last week, he met with UAW President Bob King to discuss the matter, according to Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for the governor. This week, the state Chamber of Commerce came out in favor of such a measure.

Wisconsin Discussion

Before Indiana took action, right-to-work states were concentrated in the South, Plains and Rocky Mountain regions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. Similar measures were considered in 21 other states this year, without passage. A right-to-work bill is being discussed in Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker this year survived a recall after curbing collective bargaining for most public-employee unions.

Labor rights in Michigan, home to General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, carry historic weight. Walter P. Reuther, who led a bloody drive to organize Ford workers, later served as the UAW’s president from 1946 to 1970. Called “the most dangerous man in Detroit” by American Motors executive and future Governor George Romney, Reuther helped to unite the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor organization, in 1955.

James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, is a Michigan native. His father, Jimmy Hoffa, moved to Detroit as a child and led the union for 14 years, increasing its membership to more than 2 million.

Union Opposition

Labor leaders oppose right-to-work laws, which make it harder for their organizations to raise money. The statutes generally let workers refuse to join unions or pay dues, even though they may benefit from contracts that labor groups negotiate, according to the conference of legislatures.

While no right-to-work bill is pending in Michigan, hundreds of union members have traveled to the capitol to lobby against it, according to the UAW’s website.

“It’ll take away our ability to collectively bargain,” said Dia Pearce, an organizer with Unite Here, a union representing hotel, restaurant, stadium and casino employees.

The issue is a matter of personal liberty, said Brian Pannebecker, a spokesman for Michigan Freedom to Work, a group of business groups and individuals lobbying for such a law.

“If the unions are providing a valuable service to the workers, the workers should be allowed to decide whether they want to join and financially support” them, said Pannebecker, 53, a UAW member at a Detroit-area Ford plant. He said many autoworkers resent paying dues to a union that almost exclusively supports politicians and policies that they reject.

Dominant Issue

Debate over right-to-work has dominated the state’s lame duck session, which includes lawmakers who are leaving office. Supporters of such a measure said a bill must be introduced by tomorrow to fit the legislative schedule.

“I’m more confident than I was yesterday we have the votes,” said state Representative Mike Shirkey, a Republican from Clarklake who has prepared a right-to-work measure.

States that ban compulsory union dues have greater growth in jobs, personal income and population than those that don’t prohibit the practice, Shirkey said.

Such a contentious issue shouldn’t be considered in a lame-duck session, said state Representative Richard Hammel, the Democratic Leader in the House from Mt. Morris Township. He said right-to-work states have higher jobless rates, and that such data should be considered in public hearings and in a full legislative debate.

Employees in right-to-work states make an average of $1,500 a year less than those that don’t have such a law, according to the Michigan AFL-CIO.

Hammel, who is stepping down because of term limits, said passage of a right-to-work bill now would “poison the water” for lawmakers entering the next legislative session.

“There will be no cooperation on issues that are important to a lot of folks,” Hammel said.

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