WASHINGTON -- Thousands of labor supporters turned out to Michigan's Capitol on Tuesday, as the legislature reconvened to vote on "right to work" legislation. By mid-morning, authorities estimated that there were approximately 10,000 people gathered outside the building in Lansing, Mich., with another 2,500 inside.
But despite the show of solidarity, the writing appeared to be on the wall for unions. The legislature's top priority for the day was to pass the contentious bill, and labor leaders acknowledged that they expected Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to sign it into law, making Michigan the 24th state with such a measure. Around noon, the House approved the bill.
Republicans attempted to make the bill repeal-proof, attaching a $1 million appropriation on the measure for enforcing right to work. According to Michigan law, spending bills can't be put on the ballot for the public to vote on.
But labor leaders haven't given up. They've been busily searching for other ways to repeal it, either through the ballot box or within the legislature. Some of the options being discussed depend on the goodwill of the governor or Republicans in the legislature, making those paths unlikely. Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger's (R-Marshall) office did not return a request for comment.
"Whether it's the still-available ballot initiative option, or the 2014 elections themselves, Governor Snyder should rest assured that the voices of Michiganders will be heard," said Eddie Vale, spokesman for the labor PAC Workers’ Voice, who was heavily involved in the labor fights in Ohio and Wisconsin. Vale stressed that it's still too early to tell exactly which route will be the best to seek repeal of right to work, should Snyder sign it into law.
Right-to-work laws forbid contracts between companies and unions that require all workers to pay the union for bargaining on their behalf. Although business groups and conservatives cast the issue in terms of workplace freedom, unions note that the laws allow workers to opt out of supporting the union although they reap the benefits of the collective bargaining. Because the laws tend to weaken unions generally, unions, as well as President Obama, call the legislation "right to work for less."
A look at some of labor's options:
- Line-Item Veto: Snyder could sign right to work into law but still throw labor a bone by using his line-item veto power to strike the $1 million appropriation in the bill, according to Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). That way, the law would be eligible to go on the ballot, putting the ultimate decision on right to work to the people.
- Citizens Initiative: This route may be labor's best route to the ballot box. According to an analysis by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan and first reported by NBC's Mike O'Brien, labor supporters could need to gather a high number of signatories to force a vote to repeal the law, similar to what was done in Ohio with the repeal of an anti-collective bargaining law. This route does not require the removal of the appropriations in the legislation.
- Repeal Legislation: Republicans will retain a majority in the legislature in the next session, but their ranks will be reduced after they lost a handful of seats in the 2012 elections. Not all Republicans were on board with right to work in this session, so Democrats could attempt to gain some GOP support for a bill to repeal the law.
- Recalling GOP Lawmakers: Labor leaders have raised the suggestion of trying to recall Republicans who back right to work, similar to what was attempted in Wisconsin after Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the GOP-controlled legislature pushed though a bill that stripped most public workers of their collective bargaining rights.
- 2014 Elections: Snyder is up for reelection in 2014. There's little doubt that unions will put their muscle into getting him out of office.
- Lawsuits: A union activist has already filed a lawsuit in an attempt to slow down the right-to-work legislation, "alleging violations of the Open Meetings Act after the Michigan State Police barred the doors to the Capitol," according to the Detroit Free Press. The Associated Press recently reported that opponents are considering other possible lawsuits.
While the law would be implemented before some of these options -- such as waiting for the 2014 elections -- could go into effect, it would apply only to new contracts, not existing ones. For example, the United Auto Workers just signed a new contract, which means if the law were repealed in 2013 or 2014, it wouldn't affect on those workers, or any others in a similar position.