As Michigan Republicans pushed their controversial right to work legislation another step forward Tuesday, organized labor’s promise not to go quietly was realized.
Unions have thousands of protesters at the state capital in Lansing to pressure lawmakers who voted on the bill that would make it illegal for unions to collect money from every worker in union shops, effectively stripping unions of their power to collectively bargain. Away from the protests, labor groups say they’ve found a way to unwind the Michigan Republicans’ attempt to write the law in a way that makes it impossible to be overturned at the ballot box.
If the labor groups are right, the stage is set for labor to make a big political comeback after losing in the legislature.
Upwards of 10,000 protesters were reportedly on hand in Michigan Tuesday as the state House passed versions of the right-to-work bill Gov. Rick Synder (R) has promised to sign. The scene was reminiscent of the large protests that drew national attention to Wisconsin in 2011.
Labor leaders are convinced they’ve figured out how to break the Republican plan to make the right-to-work law referendum-proof, attempting to avoid the embarrassing rebuke of anti-union legislation Republicans suffered in Ohio after Democrats and labor defeated SB 5 at the ballot box. Greg Sargent explains:
Republicans have tried to protect the law from going before the voters by attaching an appropriation to it; spending bills can’t be overturned by legislative referendum in Michigan. But union operatives think there is another mechanism by which the law can be challenged. According to one good government group’s analysis of the state constitution, there exists the option of the “statutory initiative,” which would be forced by the collecting of signatures equal to at least eight percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.
A high-ranking labor source told TPM unions are ready to turn Michigan into the next Ohio.
“If this bill is signed today, it will be Thunderdome for Governor Snyder and Michigan for the next two years,” the official said. “There are multiple options for a referendum, for the voters to have their say on this issue and all options are on the table, the fight is far from over.”
From the start of the right-to-work fight, labor groups have promised to penalize Republican legislators and Snyder for pushing through right-to-work. The news that the law could go before the public for a referendum vote makes it easier for labor to keep that promise.