Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Michigan's Legislature vs. That Democracy Thing

One of Gov. Snyder's comments that caught my attention was, in essence, "I supported cramming a 'right to work' law through the legislature to punish unions for trying to put collective bargaining rights into the state constitution."
When asked about right to work, Snyder said he was never working on the legislation and it was not a top priority of his. He said he asked proponents of Proposition 2 not to continue their efforts and warned them right to work could be an issue if their ballot initiative failed.

“But when it comes down to it, if it’s controversial, you hired me to make decisions, and I’m not going to walk away from an issue that’s on the table,” he said.

“It was my view that it was clear, that this was the right thing. It’s about workers rights, it’s about standing up for workers… but we’ve made that decision so let’s put the issue behind us and move on to the next issues we have to work on.”
Obvious reactions include the obvious: Reducing the rights of workers is pretty close to the opposite of "standing up for workers" and, if you're going to tout the notion of running government like a business, making dramatic policy changes that you would not otherwise support in order to punish an outside group is about as far from what you would want a business (or a government) to do as you can get. But the greatest concern is the means by which Snyder helped cram the law through the legislature:
As virtually everyone knows, a bill making Michigan a Right-to-Work state was rammed through the legislature in a single day during a so-called lame-duck session last December.

Not only were there were no committee hearings and no real debate: The Capitol Building in Lansing was closed to the public for what were said to be “safety reasons.”

The way in which this bill was passed has sparked a great deal of outrage, not all of it from groups automatically opposed to right to work legislation. The law, by the way, outlaws the so-called union shop, and means no worker can be forced to join or pay a fee to be represented by a union, in any public or private industry....

The aim of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act is simple: To protect our right to know what government is doing by opening to full public view the processes by which both elected and non-elected officials make decisions for the people.

After all, we elected them, and they work for us. Korobkin says that didn’t happen here. He told me, as other people have, that the public galleries were deliberately packed that day with assistants to Republican officeholders to squeeze out the general public. The ACLU also says closing the Capitol building was outrageous.

Indeed, nobody can ever remember this happening on any other piece of legislation.
If you like democracy, you have to dislike the process that the legislature and governor followed.


  1. I primarily concur with the thrust of your post but I’m not sure I see how legislation that “means no worker can be forced to join or pay a fee to be represented by a union” equates to “Reducing the rights of workers."

    If you want to argue that the long terms impacts will be reducing the power of unions and that statistically there is an argument that this will result in lower compensation for employees in certain industries - I see your point. I might point out that there are philosophical reasons to still be in favor of the legislation, but I concede your point regarding the way the legislation was passed. CWD

    1. If you believe that, on the balance, the ability to avoid paying a union fee exceeds outweighs the losses to workers in terms of wages, hours and working conditions, that's certainly an argument you're free to make. If you look at the history of "right to work states", though, and the actual objectives of the business lobbies that have worked so hard to convince legislatures to curtail the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain, I think the facts tell a different story.

      However the most important thing to recall here is that the Republicans didn't try to make that case. They locked the doors of the legislature and rushed through a bill that, up to that day, the governor had claimed he was not inclined to sign. Even if I accept the "petty revenge" explanation, I find it difficult to believe that the governor changed his mind overnight and went along with the long-standing Republican goal to limit collective bargaining on what amounts to a whim. He could have indicated that his anger at the effort to put collective bargaining rights into the constitution had bumped him off of the fence, while still insisting upon respect for the democratic process and open government.