Education International
Education International

US: Michigan passes bills restricting collective bargaining

published 18 December 2012 updated 11 January 2013

The Republican-controlled legislature in Michigan passed two misleadingly- named ‘right-to-work’ bills last week. These would allow workers to avoid paying dues to a union representing their sector.

Passed in less than a week during ‘lame duck’ session with no public hearings, the two anti-dues bills were signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder, who ignored the pleas of more than 17,000 Michiganders who urged him to reconsider the decision.

Opponents are considering legal challenges, and have vowed to vote the Republican-led legislature and Governor Snyder out of office in 2014.

NEA: Voices silenced

“Governor Snyder deliberately ignored the will of thousands of people and took a step towards silencing the voices of workers from a state that is widely considered the birthplace of the modern labour movement“, stated the President of EI’s affiliate, the National Education Association (NEA), Dennis Van Roekel.

The Michigan legislation will affect workers in both the private and public sector, except for police officers and fire-fighters. According to official figures, over 17 per cent of workers in Michigan are members of unions.

These workers can also opt out of a trade union. However, if they benefit from the better wages and working conditions negotiated by a union, they are required to pay dues or fees to help the unions to survive.

“The law is designed to give corporate CEOs, such as the Koch brothers (local billionaires who made their fortune in the oil industry), even more power at the expense of those who teach our children, protect our communities, keep us healthy, and build our roads and vehicles,” Van Roekel added.

Michigan would become the 24th state in the US to pass such a ban. Similar anti-workers moves have been taken over the last two years, particularly as states searched for ways to emerge from the economic downturn and attract new business.

AFT: Time to re-energise labour movement

EI’s affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has also rejected these anti-union trends. “The American people are unhappy with this new generation of ideologues who want to destroy the gains made by the middle class,” said AFT President Randy Weingarten.

“Our job is to take this moment and make an opportunity to re-energise the labour movement," she added.

Impact of anti-worker measures

Indeed, active trade-union campaigning helped to stop anti-worker developments in Ohio last year which had been promoted by Governor John Kasich and, more recently, in Wisconsin, by Governor Scott Walker.

A study by The Economic Policy Institute(EPI) reveals that US states that have passed these laws have higher rates of poverty and lower rates of health coverage. Seven of the 10 highest-unemployment states have passed these right-to-work bills. According to EPI, these initiatives on average cause lower wages by about US$1,500 per year for all workers.

US President Barack Obama has also expressed his conviction that ‘right-to-work’ bills have no impact in boosting economic growth:

“When I hear some of these folks trying to take collective bargaining rights away, trying to pass so-called ‘right to work’ laws for private sector workers, when I hear some of this talk, I know this is not about economics. This is about politics”.

EI solidarity

EI stands in solidarity with its US affiliates and believe, like them, that so-called “right-to-work” bills lead to lower wages, restrict the rights of workers, and weaken the long-standing principles of free collective bargaining in the US.

EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen stated: “Workers should not be blamed for a financial crisis they didn’t cause. EI is deeply concerned by the increased state-sponsored abuse and scapegoating of teachers, other public service workers and trade unionists during the period of the global financial crisis.”