Washington’s partisan stalemate over the fiscal cliff has left the future of America’s recession-battered middle class hanging in the balance. But meanwhile, in Michigan, a Republican-controlled government has had no problems pushing through a different kind of legislation that is threatening to erode one of the very foundations upon which the American middle class was built.
Just this week, Michigan’s House and Senate passed right-to-work bills that would allow private and public sector workers to opt out of paying union fees in an organized workplace. All that’s left now is a signature from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who has promised to sign the bill–effectively killing unions in Michigan–once it reaches his desk next week.
I’d like to ask him to reconsider, which is why I’m addressing my open letter this week to him.
Dear Gov. Rick Snyder,
It’s me, Melissa. I’ve got to tell you that your decision to pass right-to-work legislation in Michigan has me feeling a bit of deja vu. After all–before this sudden change of heart–you were the one who’d previously discouraged your fellow Republicans in Michigan’s legislature from advancing right-to-work laws. Reminds me a lot of your counterpart in the neighboring state on the other side of Lake Michigan.
Scott Walker didn’t make unions a big issue in his campaign. But there he was was last year, leading the charge to strip Wisconsin workers of their collective bargaining rights. But a bit of bait and switch isn’t all you have in common with Scott Walker, is it?
Because your push to pass right-to-work in Michigan was launched in partnership with the same guys who bankrolled Gov. Walker’s campaign to undermine worker’s rights–the Koch brothers and their group, Americans for Prosperity. Now, the Koch brothers also paid big time into Gov. Walker’s campaign, and as the saying goes, you have to give the devil his due.
But you’re your own man right? There’s still time to make a different decision. After all this is Michigan we’re talking about. I know that 23 other states have already passed right-to-work laws, but Michigan is the birthplace of the organized labor movement. Is this really the legacy you want to leave for the state that gave us the UAW and helped revive the U.S. auto industry?
You’ve said that this new law is about “freedom in the workplace.” But that’s only true if you mean the employers who are free from the checks and balances of a strong union to protect the rights of the people they employ. And that’s only true if you mean restricting the freedoms that all workers enjoy thanks to the organizing work of unions.
You know–like the freedom to support themselves and their families thanks to fair wages, employer-based healthcare, and retirement benefits. Or the freedom for workers to have time to spend with their families thanks to the 40-hour work week, paid holidays, family medical leave–all workers’ rights that we now take for granted, but that we wouldn’t have at all were it not for unions.
It’s why you’re so off base with your claim that the right-to-work law would only affect the 17.5% of Michigan workers who are still union members. Because the rights unions fight for are ultimately enjoyed by all workers, whether or not they’ve ever paid a cent of union dues.
Governor, you and I both know that when you weaken unions, you also weaken those rights–like benefits and a living wage–that have been essential to the survival of the American middle class. You also know that right-to-work laws decrease union membership which in turn, leads to a drop in middle class income. Workers in right-to-work states make an average of $15,000 less in annual income and are less likely to have pensions or healthcare benefits.
As the middle class struggles to rebound from the recession, I’d urge you to not let Michigan be among those states adding insult to injury. Before you sign that bill next week, I’d urge you to think again.