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
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
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
"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,"
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
"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
"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
"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
(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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