Republican power grab is really a ‘race to the bottom’

Debbie Nault of the Michigan Nurses Association stands with fellow members of the association on the Capitol steps in Lansing, Mich.
Debbie Nault of the Michigan Nurses Association stands with fellow members of the association on the Capitol steps in Lansing, Mich.
Carlos Osorio / AP

Republicans appear to be getting better and better at targeting and dismantling the opposition.

In just a matter of days, lame-duck Republicans in the Michigan legislature managed to push through right-to-work bills that effectively decimate unions. And they did so using a technicality in state law to make sure the bills weren’t discussed in committee or subjected to public discussion.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who said this legislation was too “divisive” and wasn’t on his agenda, inevitably signed the bill as soon as it landed on his desk Tuesday.

In about four business days, the state known for its rich history of labor unions became an anti-union state. The law means workers in union shops will continue to get all of the protections and benefits of collective bargaining. They just don’t have to pay union dues unless they choose to pay them.

But as the Washington Post explains, unions can’t choose not to bargain for those same workers. Unions can’t choose not to represent those employees if there’s legal action.

Republicans in Michigan have essentially succeeded in undercutting Democrats’ core base, essentially succeeding in taking the money out of their opponents’ campaigns. That’s a huge amount of power.

Conservatives still have control of both chambers and the governor’s office–but their power is slipping. The Republicans lost eight state House seats in the most recent election.They had to push this legislation through during the lame-duck session before the new legislature came in. You’ve got to admit, it’s pretty brilliant.

Big money lobbying groups appear to be getting better and better at this gut-the-unions strategy. Michigan became the 24th state to adopt so called “right-to-work” legislation, but it’s actually only the second state to fall in a new wave of Republican pressure. Indiana was the first state in 10 years to enact right to work legislation in 2012. Michigan Gov. Snyder repeatedly mentioned Indiana as a reason he thought his state should adopt the same law.

Minnesota avoided the same fate just a few months ago, but union organizers say there was enormous outside pressure. Republicans in Minnesota tried to pass anti-union legislation by making an end-run around the governor by passing a constitutional amendment.

Unlike Michigan, Minnesota had a handful of Republicans who joined the Democrats in fighting the legislation. But groups like “Americans for Prosperity” and “Freedom Club” targeted those specific worker-friendly Republicans in their districts. Organizers say big outside money influenced small town campaigns.

In the end, Minnesota’s AFL-CIO and other labor organizers helped defeat the Republicans. They flipped both houses and gained an 11-12 seat majority for the Democrats.

The Republicans may have overreached in Minnesota. But Wisconsin and West Virginia could be the next states in the Republican cross-hairs.

Ultimately, the GOP and wealthy allies are pushing states to pass anti-worker legislation to improve their own election prospects. They’re sacrificing better wages in what President Obama calls a “race to the bottom” to gain power.