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Right-to-work bill passes in Michigan

Keywords: Tags  Right-to-work legislation, Detroit Diesel, Daimler Trucks, United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, President Obama, Leo Gerard, corinna petry

CHICAGO — Despite vociferous opposition from labor and the White House, unions apparently have lost a legislative battle in the blue-collar heartland of Michigan.

As workers protested Tuesday in Lansing, the state House of Representatives passed a measure making Michigan a right-to-work state. President Obama slammed the bill Monday when talking with workers at Detroit Diesel in Redford, Mich., which makes powertrain components for parent Daimler Trucks North America LLC.

The legislation, which regulates strikes and picketing, mediates grievances and disputes and requires certain provisions in collective bargaining agreements, among other limits to labor’s powers, will now go to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature.

The provision that could most severely weaken organizations like the United Steelworkers union and the United Auto Workers is removal of the requirement that employees join the union at a unionized company or pay union dues.

After the 58-to-52 vote approving the legislation, USW president Leo Gerard called on steelworkers to join other unions and allies in Michigan and nationwide to urge Snyder to veto the right-to-work bill, although that is seen as unlikely. "He should ... allow an amendment that would put this issue before the public as a state ballot initiative. Let the people of Michigan debate and vote on a consequential matter that will affect all working families."

The USW backed Obama, said Gerard, "for his public statement in Detroit to do everything we can to keep good middle-class jobs that help workers rebuild security for their families." The President, visiting Detroit Diesel Monday as it announced a $120-million investment that will create 115 new jobs, said Michigan’s legislature should not "take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions. These so-called right-to-work laws don’t have to do with economics; they have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money."

The President won re-election with the help of union voters. He credited Michigan workers with reviving the auto industry and suggested that state and national legislators should focus on aiding the growth of American manufacturers like Detroit Diesel.

"Freedom to work is pro-family, pro-taxpayer, pro-worker—and, yes, (it) is pro-union," Rep. Mark Shirley (R., Clarklake) said in the state House.

"We have broad, deep and profoundly passionate support for making Michigan the next freedom-to-work state. We are standing on solid ground," he said. "This protects a worker’s right to associate and the right to not associate, the right to belong to a union and the right not to belong to a union. Unions are as free to make their case as workers are to make their choice."

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