Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 7, 2012

Snyder's sudden embrace of 'right-to-work' eye-opening


---- — Gov. Rick Snyder's carefully cultivated image as a non-politician who preferred to put policy and the common good ahead of politics as usual has been shattered. For good.

Snyder joined the far-right wing of the Republican Party Wednesday and Thursday to trash his own claims over the past two years that right-to-work legislation wasn't a priority for him — claims he made repeatedly during the last election cycle when voters were weighing Proposal 2, which would have enshrined workers' right to unionize in the state Constitution.

Snyder told reporters Thursday that suddenly, right-to-work was not only "on the agenda" but bills to make it law would be introduced that day. The issue went from a non-agenda item to an emergency in a matter of hours.

Snyder told reporters right-to-work legislation is about freedom for workers and is not meant to harm unions or collective bargaining. But now we know that what the governor says and what he means are not necessarily the same thing.

Snyder said right-to-work wasn't on his agenda previously because there were more pressing issues to deal with, but now is the time to move. The why is obvious — the elections are over and all those House members who were afraid to speak up for fear of angering union members can come out of the shadows and do what they didn't have the political courage to do until their re-election was assured.

For "not on the agenda" to morph into lame-duck, dark-of-night lawmaking is incredible, even for these guys.

Right-to-work efforts have been around for as long as there have been unions. Most states passed laws that forced individuals who benefitted from union efforts to raise wages, establish workplace safety laws and create pension and health care programs to pay a fee equal to union dues if they didn't want to join the union. The logic was that if the union was working as their agent and they benefitted from the changes the union fought for, they should pay for the privilege.

Anti-union groups, namely big businesses and state Chambers of Commerce, have long fought for right-to-work laws that allowed workers to benefit from union actions without paying to support them, an oddly socialist take on the premise that everyone should pay their own way.

For Snyder and the Chamber of Commerce to claim their sudden right-to-work fever is about "freedom" for workers and not meant to harm unions or collective bargaining is laughable. And patently false.

For a state that is so heavily unionized, right-to-work legislation is a major issue that deserves long and honest debate and negotiation. To decide that the lame-duck session, when lawmakers get a free pass from voters, is the time to act belies an honest approach to the issue.

For further proof that this is strictly political opportunism, note that while the proposed legislation will cover both private and public sector workers, an exception will be granted for police and firefighters. Why? Because both have powerful unions that can influence elections and many of their members support conservative candidates. So they get a pass.

By the time you read this and long before you have a chance to call your lawmaker to support or oppose the new legislation, Michigan could already be a right-to-work state. The GOP has the language written, the votes lined up and the will to do what should have been done with at least a nod toward a fair and open debate.

But when you're protecting workers — which the Republicans are so famous for doing, after all — apparently no sacrifice is too great.