Right-to-Work Measures Not Catching On

When Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signed HB 1001 in February - making the Hoosier State the 23rd overall and the first since Oklahoma a decade earlier to adopt so-called "right-to-work" legislation that allows workers to avoid paying union dues even if a union bargains on their behalf - many observers speculated that other states with GOP-dominated legislatures would soon follow suit. But while Republican lawmakers across the country have introduced right-to-work measures, similar success has been elusive.
 
According to State Net, at least 16 states have introduced right-to-work bills this year, including New Hampshire, where on March 14 the House endorsed such a measure for the second straight year. Gov. John Lynch (D) vetoed the 2011 legislation, HB 474, and has vowed to do the same if this year's bill, HB 1677, gets to his desk. That does not bode well for its supporters: The 198-139 tally in the House is far from the two-thirds majority needed to make it veto-proof. 
 
Minnesota Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing their right-to-work measure as a constitutional amendment, which must be approved by voters. But the proposals (SB 1705 and HB 2140) have sparked a mild intraparty feud. The Senate bill cleared the GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, but has stalled in the Senate Rules Committee, also controlled by Republicans. The House bill, meanwhile, has stayed locked down in the Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. Although Republicans hold majorities in both the House and Senate, legislative leaders have refused to bring the bills to their respective floors for a vote. 
 
Many ascribe that reluctance to the bruising political brawls that anti-union efforts sparked last year in Ohio and especially Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R), Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R) and four GOP Senators face a recall vote this spring. In private, some Gopher State Republicans have expressed concern that a right-work-amendment could ignite a similarly strong backlash from the state's strong Democratic base, not something they relish in a year where every legislative seat is up for election. 
 
Their hesitation has led SB 1705 author Sen. Dave Thompson (R) to accuse his colleagues of political cowardice. 
 
"It's not about the policy," Thompson told The New York Times on March 20. "There is a tremendous fear of the political ramifications - it boils down to that, nothing more or less." 
 
Thompson and approximately a dozen lawmakers from both chambers have continued to push the issue, holding a recent press conference in which they implored Senate Majority Leader David Senjem (R) to bring SB 1705 to the Senate floor. Senjem was not moved. 
 
"We have no plans to do it at this point," Senjem told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I don't think the votes are there." 
 
That explanation wasn't satisfactory for Minnesota Sen. Dave Hann (R), who responded, "There's only one way to find out. And that's to bring it to the floor." 
 
A similar intraparty conflict is shaping up in Michigan, where Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has strongly discouraged lawmakers from sending him a right-to-work bill this year. Snyder called such legislation divisive, saying right-to-work "is an issue that may have its time and place, but I don't think it is appropriate for Michigan in 2012." Michigan has several right-work bills already pending, including SB 120, which would allow local governments to establish their own right-to-work zones, and SB 729, which would establish the law for unionized school employees. 
 
But Snyder's concern is for more than just what his fellow Republicans will do. He recently implored union activists to drop their own efforts to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall that would permanently bar right-to-work legislation in the Wolverine State. The governor told the Detroit Free Press he is opposed to the union effort for the same reason he is against right-to-work legislation. 
 
"My concern is that could start a whole divisive atmosphere of other people trying to put right-to-work on the ballot, a whole bunch of things like that, and that would distract from the good things we've got going on," Snyder said. 
 
It isn't clear yet whether Snyder will get his wish with lawmakers, but organizers for the ballot measure insist they will not stand down, citing 80 pending or already approved bills from the last few years they say are anti-union. 
 
"That just underscores the need for it," said Zack Pohl, a representative for We Are the People, one of the many labor groups behind the ballot drive, which must obtain 320,000 valid signatures by July 9 to get the measure onto the November ballot. "We fully expect more attacks from Legislature politicians and corporate CEOs." 
 
That stance is sure to create just the scenario Snyder says he wants to avoid, as business leaders have said they will respond with their own counter-measures. 
 
"We would rather not have this right at all," Michigan Chamber of Commerce Rich Studley told the Free Press, "but it would just be wrong for labor leaders to assume that there won't be active opposition." 
 
Back in Indiana, the battle over its right-to-work law is also far from over. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 has filed suit in federal court, saying the law violates both the state and U.S. constitutions. Attorney General Greg Zoeller, meanwhile, told the Indianapolis Star he will vigorously defend the law. 
 
But while the court battle may just be starting, the public relations battle has never abated. Last week, the head of MBC Group, a business analytics company that Gov. Daniels recently held up as an example of how the right-to-work law is already growing Hoosier State businesses, said the law actually had nothing to do with the company's expansion. Company president Eric Holloway said MBC had been planning the expansion for a while and the law "was not going to affect our decision one way or another." 
 
Daniels did not offer a comment, but earlier claimed that more than two dozen companies are considering moving to Indiana because of the law, and three others have already committed to doing so. Labor leaders, however, pounced on the revelation. In an email to union supporters, the Indiana AFL-CIO cited the MBC claim in its efforts to rally opposition against right-to-work lawmakers in the November elections. 
 
"While it's not shocking, it's disappointing that our officials would stoop to this level in order to deceive the public which they are supposed to represent," the message said. 
 
In states like Minnesota, lawmakers and business leaders are all keeping a close eye on how the events in Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire and elsewhere are unfolding. Charlie Weaver, head of the Minnesota Business Partnership, told the New York Times the ongoing push for a right-to-work law felt risky, noting fear that a voter backlash could return control of the Legislature to Democrats. 
 
"So you get this, but what if you also get devastatingly bad legislation for growing jobs for the next two years? Then what?" Weaver said. "We just aren't sure whether this is a politically wise thing to do or not." 
 
(STATE NET, NEW YORK TIMES, INDIANAPOLIS STAR, ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, DETROIT FREE PRESS, CBS ST. LOUIS, STAR TRIBUNE [MINNEAPOLIS], CONCORD MONITOR, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR)

- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

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