Local representatives react to right-to-work legislation

MANISTEE — This week, the Michigan legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder enacted new laws that will eliminate the requirement that certain workers join unions and pay dues, sparking a debate over “right-to-work” and how it will affect Michigan.

Currently, federal law requires that union benefits are applied to all workers, but the new Michigan laws do not require workers to pay dues or join a union. Critics say the Michigan laws are union-busting, because some employees will “free load” union advantages without paying dues, ultimately weakening the organizations.

Proponents say the laws will work to make Michigan more competitive on the national economic scene.

While the demonstrators in Lansing were passionate and full of outrage, the reaction from Manistee union leaders and members has largely been calm.

“We have got to stay strong as a union, and to do that we have to have solidarity,” said Mike Hiller, president of the Local 14758 United Steelworkers chapter in Manistee since 1989. “Now, I don’t think everything about a union is good, but they do protect our rights.

“I think it will be fine, I really do. It will hit a point where everybody is bickering, fighting back and forth about not paying, and eventually they will come back and say ‘I guess I should be paying,’” he said.

Hiller cited in-house statistics from Indiana union groups stating that 40 percent of members decided not to pay dues after the state enacted similar laws. Now, he said, 98 percent of those employees have started to pay union dues again, and he thinks Michigan will see a similar trend.

Others in Manistee have expressed disappointment with the laws.

“If someone doesn’t want to belong to my local (union), my personal opinion is ‘OK,’” said Tim Kolanowski, financial secretary at Hiller’s chapter. “But I don’t think that we should have to fight their grievance procedures, they shouldn’t receive the same amount of pay and stuff that we bargain for, that we have to fight to get.

“The more you have people not belonging to unions, what’s going to happen is, smaller locals like us will fall apart faster. When that happens, you work at-will for the corporation or whoever you work for, and all of a sudden medical insurance, vacations, or holidays, are going to be missing. Because they won’t have to offer them to you.”

Despite the resistance from labor groups around the state, the bills passed in a lame-duck session this week and were signed by Gov. Snyder on Tuesday. Ray Franz, who represents Manistee County in the Michigan House of Representatives 101st district, voted yes to enact the laws.

“I have advocated for workplace fairness and opportunity based on three principles,” Franz said. “First, the freedom to associate – or not to associate – is inherent in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Second, economically it has worked wherever it has been tried resulting in growing job opportunities and a growing economy. All 10 of the top 10 growth states have worker freedom laws. It is the final piece of the prosperity puzzle for Michigan. Finally, this law will keep unions free to make their case, and allow workers to be free to make their choice.

“What this means is, effective April 1, a worker cannot be forced to pay dues or join a union as a condition of employment.”

 

 

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Posted by Eric Sagonowsky

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