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FACTBOX-"Right-to-work' in Michigan a Blow to Union Power

Tuesday, 11 Dec 2012 02:53 PM

 

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Dec 11 (Reuters) - Michigan's state legislature approved on Tuesday two new laws making it a so-called right-to-work state where it would be against the law for a union to require all employees to join and pay dues as a condition of employment. The measures passed despite protests from thousands of unionized workers, and Republican Governor Rick Snyder has vowed to sign them into law.

Here are some key facts about Michigan and right-to-work:

** Michigan would be 24th of the 50 U.S. states to pass laws making it right-to-work, and the second in the industrial heartland of the country after Indiana passed such legislation earlier in 2012. Most other right-to-work states are in the South and Plains regions. The Northeast and coastal West are the regions where union rights are strongest.

** Right-to-work is generally defined as a state where it is against the law for a union to be a so-called "closed shop," requiring all employees to join a union and pay dues. The Michigan laws would make membership in a union and payment of dues voluntary and would cover both the private and public sector, except for fire and police unions. Supporters of right-to-work say such laws attract business, encourage investment and allow workers to choose whether they want to join a union. Critics say they suppress wages, weaken the collective bargaining authority of unions and leave workers at the mercy of employers in negotiations over pay, benefits and working conditions.

** The laws passed by Republicans in Michigan last week would exempt existing contracts between employers and unions until they expire, such as the automakers' contract with the United Auto Workers union, which expires in 2015. The so-called grandfather clause would soften the impact of the new law initially, although over time contracts would be subject to right-to-work.

** Michigan is a stronghold of the union movement in the United States. Some 671,000 workers, or 17.5 percent, were members of unions in Michigan in 2011. This was the fifth- highest percentage among states after New York, Hawaii, Alaska and Washington, and the highest in the Midwest industrial heartland. After a seven-year slide, Michigan's union membership increased slightly in 2011 from the previous year.

** The symbolism of turning Michigan into a right-to-work state is strong because it is the home of the U.S. auto industry and the place where autoworkers first began to demand better wages and working conditions in the assembly line automotive plants built by industrial barons such as Henry Ford in the 1920s. On March 7, 1932, thousands of people marched on Ford's Dearborn, Michigan, plant to demand jobs. Police and security forces employed by Ford fired on the crowd. Five protesters died and scores were injured. The confrontation increased sympathy for workers and led to the formation of the United Auto Workers in 1935.

** Michigan has 698 automaker assembly plants, parts plants, and auto-parts supplier plants, more than any other state, according to Elm Analytics, which tracks data on the industry.

Michigan accounted for about 18 percent of the 776,000 people employed in motor vehicles and parts manufacturing in the United States as of October 2012.

The headquarters of General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler are located in the Detroit area.

** Democrats and unions already are planning to challenge the state laws in court. Political sources said any challenge could cite federal law guaranteeing the right to collective bargaining, although such attempts to challenge the laws of other states in court using federal law have failed in the past.

** Republicans supporting right-to-work inserted in the laws allocations of money to cover implementation. Under the Michigan constitution any law that includes such an allocation of money cannot be challenged by referendum. This will make it harder for Democrats and unions to overturn the law, although political sources said they may try to skirt this by drafting a ballot initiative that would supersede the new laws.

Michigan voters in the November election rejected 57 percent to 43 percent a ballot initiative to enshrine in the state constitution the right to collective bargaining. The ballot initiative had been backed by labor unions. Its defeat may have emboldened Republicans to pursue right-to-work in the state, some political sources have said.

** Opponents also could try to force recall elections of Republican lawmakers who voted for the laws, or of Republican Governor Rick Snyder. This was tried during a bitter battle over union rights in Wisconsin over the last two years with mixed results. Some Republican state Senators were recalled in Wisconsin for voting to curb union power, but Republican Governor Scott Walker survived a recall effort against him.

** The right-to-work drive in Michigan is the latest of a series of setbacks for labor unions in the United States, beginning in 2011, when Wisconsin's Walker pushed through the legislature limits on public sector unions such as teachers. The Wisconsin limits on unions are on hold while the issue is challenged in court. Earlier this year, Indiana passed right-to-work legislation and two cities in California voted to curb the pensions of public sector workers. Several other states and local governments have either made cuts or are considering cuts to the pensions of public sector workers because of financial difficulties.

One recent victory for unions was in Ohio, where in November 2011, voters overturned a Republican-led effort to place restrictions on public sector unions, similar to that in Wisconsin.

SOURCES: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Thomson Reuters, United Auto Workers website, Michigan Secretary of State website, text of Michigan right-to-work proposed laws, Elm Analytics.

(Compiled by Greg McCune; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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