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Local labor leader reacts to vote in state House, Senate

Unions: Political payback coming for right-to-work

December 10, 2012
By JACKIE STARK and JOHN PEPIN - Journal Staff Writers and The Associated Press ( , The Mining Journal

LANSING - Two buses are heading downstate tonight carrying Upper Peninsula residents who plan to protest outside the state Capitol Tuesday, where roads are already being closed in anticipation of the rallies.

The Republican led Michigan Legislature angered many state residents last week when it pushed through right-to-work legislation in just a few hours.

Opponents of the laws spent the weekend mapping strategies for protests and acts of civil disobedience, while acknowledging the reality that Republican majorities in both the House and Senate cannot be stopped - or even delayed for long - by parliamentary maneuvers.

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"It's obvious it's lame-duck legislation and it was (done) really fast, that was intentional. I think it was payback for Proposal 2," said Tony Retaskie, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Construction Council. "I think people will remember this. We're supposed to be trying to get along. This is just dividing our state when we should be working together on a lot more legislation, rather than dividing us - and this will definitely divide us."

Proposal 2, which asked voters to decide whether they'd like to place the right to collectively bargain in Michigan's Constitution, was voted down in November.

One road to the west of the Capitol in Lansing will be closed to vehicle and foot traffic today, and traffic and parking will be banned on several other roads in the area beginning at 6 a.m. Tuesday, state police said in a statement.

Protesting in Lansing began last week with a throng of demonstrators who gathered at the state Capitol as bills - House Bill 4054 and Senate Bill 116 - that included right to work laws were introduced and approved in a matter of hours, without the usual committee hearings allowing for public comment.

In the Senate, the measure was approved on a vote of 22 to 16. All Democrats voted no and all but four Republicans voted yes. Voting no was Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba.

The House approved the bill on a vote of 58 to 52. All Democrats voted no and all Republicans voted yes, with the exception of six representatives, including Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan.

Lame-duck Rep. Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine, joined those supporting the measure.

A third right-to-work measure, House Bill 4003, was passed in the House on June 8, 2011. The bill extends right-to-work law to government and school employees. McBroom and Huuki both voted in favor of the bill.

The Senate voted 22 to 4 in favor of the measure Thursday. Casperson voted against it.

Democratic and union leaders vowed to resist the legislation to the end, and then set their sights on winning control of the Legislature and defeating Gov. Rick Snyder when he seeks re-election in 2014.

"They've awakened a sleeping giant," United Auto Workers President Bob King told The Associated Press on Saturday at a Detroit-area union hall, where about 200 activists were attending a planning session. "Not just union members. A lot of regular citizens, non-union households, realize this is a negative thing."

People against the proposed legislation wore red today to show their support of organized labor.

Right-to-work laws prohibit requiring employees to join a union or pay fees similar to union dues as a condition of employment. Supporters say it's about freedom of association for workers and a better business climate. Critics contend the real intent is to bleed unions of money and bargaining power.

Tuesday, the two chambers may reconcile wording differences in the controversial legislation and send final versions to Snyder, who now pledges to sign them after saying repeatedly since his 2010 election the issue wasn't "on my agenda."

"A lot of people were listening to the governor when he said he didn't want to take up this fight," Retaskie said. "I don't understand. There's a lot of other things we could be working on rather than attacking unions. (The legislation) can certainly decrease (unions') negotiation ability, probably reducing wages and benefits, and that's the ironic part, because the people trying to legislate right- to-work want family-sustaining jobs in our communities...

"States with the highest poverty rates, eight out of 10 are right to work states. In addition, right-to-work states have not come through this economic downturn any better than other states. In fact, Michigan is probably making the fastest comeback and they're unionized."

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.



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