Union workers in Michigan rally over right-to-work bills

In Lansing, Michigan, labor supporters held a major rally Tuesday at the state capitol to protest the passage of Republican-sponsored right-to-work legislation limiting the influence of organized labor, a key constituency of the Democratic Party. The legislation, in the state that was once the stronghold of the labor movement, could change the balance of power between workers and management in the entire country.

Michigan union workers came by the thousands to the state capitol building to protest legislation to ban unions from requiring workers to pay labor dues.

Right-to-work laws make it illegal to take away jobs from employees who refuse to join a labor union. It outlaws so-called closed shops, which require workers to join a union or pay a fee similar to union dues.

Those who favor right-to-work laws say they are not anti-union because they say the laws do not take away a worker’s right to join a union, start one, or even go on strike. They say such laws defend an employee’s freedom of choice. Supporters also say states with right-to-work laws attract more new businesses and jobs. But some economists dispute that.

Opponents argue that such laws strengthen management at the expense of unions who fight for better working conditions and fair wages. Opponents to right-to-work laws say such regulations are aimed at weakening unions and could lead to arbitrary pay cuts, firings, and fewer benefits. They also say such laws allow workers to enjoy the same benefits as unionized workers without having to pay union dues.

​​The two bills at the center of the debate were approved by the state House of Representatives Tuesday, following recent passage by the Senate. The measures deal with public sector workers and the private sector. Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, says he intends to sign these bills into law.

The laws would likely reduce the membership and influence of organized labor in the state that gave rise to modern industrial unions. Michigan is the center of the U.S. automotive industry and unions like the United Auto Workers, which was founded in Detroit in 1935, are considered the heart of the nation’s labor movement.

Michigan union workers backed President Barack Obama overwhelmingly in his re-election bid, and the president spoke out against right-to-work measures when he visited a Detroit area auto plant.

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