Quietly, and while thousands of protesters raged outside his office, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed into law Tuesday evening the right-to-work legislation that’s turned a national spotlight on his state.
Before the ink was dry on Michigan’s new laws, however, labor leaders were huddling to decide how to undo the Republican-controlled legislature’s signature achievement. The fight for union rights in Michigan is just beginning, they say.
Union activists told TPM Tuesday that they haven’t decided on the immediate course of action following Synder’s announcement. But they are actively mulling several options that could see the law dragged into the courts or placed before voters.
Whatever happens, the labor groups say, expect union attempts to exact political vengeance in 2014 when Snyder and other Republican members of the legislature who pushed the legislation are up for reelection.
The likely first decision for pro-labor groups is whether to try and overturn the new right-to-work law at the ballot box. Republicans specifically crafted the bill to make it referendum-proof, but labor groups say they may have found a way around them by using a “statutory initiative,” which requires gathering signatures equal to at least 8 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.
A spokesperson for the AFL-CIO told TPM Tuesday that the decision to pursue a referendum hasn’t been made yet. It’s possible the groups may skip over an expensive and complicated referendum process in favor of targeting state Republicans for defeat in 2014.
Meanwhile, it’s basically a foregone conclusion that lawsuits challenging the law will wind through the court system in Michigan. At his press conference announcing he had signed the bills into law, Snyder said he “expects litigation,” and he expects the law will survive a court challenge.
The legislation allows non-union members of union shops to withhold payments to unions that are currently required. Unions will still collect dues from active members. About 18 percent of the workers in Michigan belong to a union, the fifth-highest percentage in the country.
The new law won’t take effect for 90 days after the end of the legislative session. It may take longer than that for the law to have a real effect — existing worker contracts are exempted from the new law. So labor and its allies has some time to figure out what to do next in Michigan. But labor groups are determined that Snyder’s signature was just the beginning of a new fight over worker’s rights in Michigan, not the end.