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Unions look ahead on fight over right-to-work

By ALANNA DURKIN and JEFF KAROUB, Associated Press

LANSING, Jan. 17, 2013 (AP): Union leaders looking for an olive branch from Gov. Rick Snyder in his third State of the State address say he left them empty-handed, but they vow to keep fighting to bring down right-to-work legislation enacted last month.

``We're going to lobby every time we feel it's necessary,'' said Mike Green, president of United Auto Workers Local 652. ``Not just the UAW, this is working people.''

Labor groups have already joined together with faith and community groups ``who are equally upset about the damaging policies of the Snyder administration,'' said Sara Wallenfang, a spokeswoman for Michigan's American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Snyder has come under fire for his efforts to swiftly pass the law, which prohibits requirements that workers pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment, in the lame-duck session without holding public hearings. He has called the action pro-worker and argues it will create jobs in the state, but also has previously described it as divisive and repeatedly stressed it wasn't on his agenda.

John Beck, a professor of labor and industrial relations at Michigan State University, said unions and their supporters are waging a ``multi-front battle'' that incorporates pursuing legal challenges, political organizing, internal strategizing and public relations. He envisions an all-of-the-above approach but one that emphasizes certain efforts at different times.

The political front comes with the aim of electing Democrats who would rescind the law to the governor's office, Legislature and other high offices. He described that as ``a very long game,'' but one with precedence: States including Indiana and Louisiana have enacted and rescinded the law, or even re-enacted it.

Beck said the labor movement is coalescing in a way that it never could before right-to-work was passed.

``The interesting thing about it is the worst thing that someone could have imagined to have happen (to the labor movement) has ... happened,'' he said. ``Now, frankly, they've pulled that trigger. ... That means they've taken their major shot, so the labor movement and Democrats are going to do what they can.''

There is already evidence that Snyder's call to raise taxes and fees for roads will be a battlefront, at least for some. In his speech, Snyder laid out a proposal for tax and fee increases to raise an additional $1.2 billion a year to fix Michigan's ailing bridges and roads.   

Although spending money on infrastructure typically finds favor with Democrats and Snyder needs them to counterbalance tax-averse conservatives, Beck said many in the minority party are saying ``he's not to be trusted'' after capitulating on right-to-work.

``He's banking on the idea that (Democrats) are not going to cut off their noses to spite their face,'' Beck said.

At the same time, unions are calling Snyder's plan to raise taxes just another attack on middle-class working families.

Bryan Grochowski, a scientist and engineer with Lansing's Service Employees International Union Local 517 said some union members believe there has been an upside to the right-to-work legislation in that workers have become stronger by coming together.

But he compared it to an ``upside of someone in your family having a stroke.'' While the family may come together and become stronger, Grochowski said, ``you certainly don't want to have a stroke.''

Online: Governor's State of State address: http://on.lsj.com/102KikM

Copyright © 1989 to 2013 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 01/22/13 19:58:19 -0800.




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