Michigan will soon become the 24th state with right-to-work laws on the books. The laws are designed to limit union power by prohibiting requirements that make workers pay union dues as a condition for employment. The Michigan state legislature passed two bills today dealing with both private and public sector unions. The bills now go to Governor Rick Snyder's officer, and he's indicated that he'll sign them. NBC's Ron Mott joined us on the show fresh off his interview with the governor. That interview will air tonight on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.
Throughout the day, hundreds of pro-union protesters demonstrated outside the state capitol building and shouted, "Shame on you" after each House vote. At least two protesters were arrested today. And now state troopers in riot gear are prepared to keep them away from the governor's office.
The bills passed the Republican-led state house today with slim majorities: 58 to 81 on public-sector workers and 58 to 52 on private-sector employees As our The Cycle's Steve Kornacki points out, lawmakers wanted to rush these through before the start of next year when the makeup of the state legislature will change.
Democrat Carl Levin, the senior senator from Michigan, says Gov. Snyder's pledge to sign the bills "directly contradicts his promise to avoid divisive issues and his promise to bring Michiganians together... Now, he is misleading Michigan voters when he says these bills are designed to protect workers from being required to join a union, or that they 'give workers freedom to choose who they associate with.' They already have those protections in current law."
Today at the White House, press secretary Jay Carney reiterated President Obama's opposition to these laws, calling them "more political than economic."
Across the country, union membership is falling. One out of three workers was a union member in the 1950's. That number dropped to 21% in 1985, and to 13% last year. But that's not to say union influence has fallen. As Krystal Ball pointed out yesterday, labor contributed $143 million in the 2012 elections, ranking them among the top 10 interest groups in federal campaign contributions.