Lansing — The Michigan Legislature barreled through a controversial right-to-work bill Thursday afternoon, forging ahead while hundreds of protesters gathered in opposition just a few feet from the legislators.
House and Senate Republicans both were able to push through separate but similar bills, defying protestors and outraged Democrats.
If right-to-work becomes law, labor experts say it could severely weaken unions’ leverage in wage and benefit negotiations — a concern reflected by student union leaders on campus.
At a press conference Thursday morning, Gov. Rick Snyder detailed his plan for the legislation, along with Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and Speaker of the House Jase Bolger.
“I do believe that the votes are there to pass what (we’ve) been talking about,” Richardville said in a news conference Thursday morning. “We anticipate something happening before the end of the calendar year.”
Snyder, who has not supported right-to-work in the past, endorsed the bill and said he hoped it could work its way through the Legislature “in a timely fashion.”
“I don’t think I’ve changed course at all,” Snyder said. “I said let’s not have this drag out; let’s not be ambiguous on it.”
But the bill’s passage could mean weaker unions, said John Beck, associate professor of human resources and labor relations.
Under the current law, most employees of unionized workplaces are required to join unions after working for a certain number of days, Beck said. If the bill becomes law, employees will have the right to choose whether or not to join the union.
Many union workers worry employees who don’t join the union and pay dues still will get the benefits the union works for, such as better wages, pensions or vacation schedules.
Beck said this concern isn’t unfounded because employees will have the option not to join a union, this could possibly lead to a much smaller, and perhaps weaker, group of union workers.
Graduate Employees Union President Dan Clark said without unions, graduate students could have immense workloads and less time to spend working with undergraduate students — a main reason he and other graduate students have been heading to the Capitol throughout the week to protest the bill.
“We believe we’re also protecting the educational experience of undergraduates,” he said.
The bill was dismissed from a committee today and immediately re-introduced with different terms, leading some to wonder why it was pushed through the Legislature so quickly.
MSU College Democrats President Stephen Wooden said it is a mistake to rush the legislation without adequate discussion.
“I find it kind of astounding,” he said. “I really think what needs to happen is take a step back and realize what’s important in creating the jobs in the state and get that on the agenda.”
The White House released a statement Thursday on behalf of President Barack Obama, condemning right-to-work legislation in Michigan, according to MIRS News.
Obama will be visiting Michigan on Monday to discuss the fiscal cliff, but likely will address the right-to-work bill.