Debbie Nault of the Michigan Nurses Association joins union members on the Michigan Capitol steps ahead of a larger protest set for today. The group said the tape on the protesters’ mouths Monday symbolized the silencing of unions that leaders believe will occur if the legislation becomes law.
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LANSING — Tom Zimmerman would love to see the union rally set for the Michigan State Capitol today sway opinion enough to reverse Michigan’s path to becoming a right-to-work state.
Realistically, he and most others know there’s little chance of that happening.
With Republicans controlling both chambers and Gov. Rick Snyder putting his support behind the measure, Michigan could become the nation’s 24th state to pass right-to-work legislation by day’s end.
But Mr. Zimmerman, unit chairman for UAW Local 723 at Chrysler Group LLC’s Dundee engine plant, said the show of solidarity should send a clear message the fight isn’t over — not by a long shot.
“If they interpret this any way but that, they would be seriously underestimating the strength of the union in Michigan,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “This is a slap in the face in our backyard, the birthplace of the movement. And here they are trying to rearrange that.”
Hundreds, if not thousands, of union members and their allies are expected to gather in Lansing today to protest the legislation. Authorities are bracing for the demonstrations by trumping up the police presence and planning to close roads and place parking restrictions around the Capitol.
Bob Cebina, president of UAW Local 723, said the local plans to bus 55 people to Lansing to take part in the protests, and that more union supporters are going up on their own. Local 723, headquartered in Monroe, represents about 2,200 members at several plants in southeast Michigan.
Mr. Cebina said union officials knew the measure was on the lame-duck Legislature’s agenda, but it was a surprise how quickly it was sent to votes in the state House and Senate.
“To me, it just shows politicians are afraid of discussion,” Mr. Cebina said.
The Michigan measures have sailed through the legislative process since Thursday, when the state House and Senate introduced and swiftly approved them. Mr. Snyder previously has said he would sign the legislation, which needs additional votes because the versions approved last week by the two chambers were slightly different.
Right-to-work laws make it illegal to require that employees join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. Supporters said the rules would foster a better business environment and help spur economic growth in Michigan while allowing workers the freedom to chose whether or not to join a union. Critics say it is a backhanded way of union busting.
“It’s really a slap in the face to organized labor,” said Bill Lichtenwald, president of Teamsters Local 20 in Toledo. “It’s just an attempt to financially strap the local unions. They might be able to hurt our pocketbooks, but they’re not going to hurt our message, and that is justice in the workplace.”
Mr. Lichtenwald said about 10 members of his union will go to Lansing today to show their support.
He sees the proposal as a partisan attack on Michigan union members, a group that helped President Obama win the state a month ago.
Ray Wood, president of UAW Local 14, which represents workers at General Motors Co.’s Powertrain plant in Toledo, also thinks the legislation is a form of political payback. He sees it as an attack on the middle class and said it will hurt not just union members but all workers in the state.
Union dues help pay for the financial consultants, actuaries, and lawyers whom unions rely on in negotiations. If workers have a choice of not paying union dues, Mr. Wood thinks some may elect not to.
“Those dues dollars are going to be impacted that way,” he said. “We are going to have some loyal union people who are going to continue to see the bigger picture and why that’s needed. But you’re going to have some people who are going to say if ‘I’m getting the same service, why pay?’”
About 50 protesters picketed Monday outside Michigan government offices in downtown Detroit, chanting slogans that included, “Gov. Snyder: Just say no.” Earlier in the day, about a dozen members of the Michigan Nurses Association stood on the state Capitol steps, mouths covered with tape. Organizers said they symbolized the silencing of unions they believe will occur if the legislation becomes law.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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