But Michigan voters also rejected an amendment put forth by the UAW and other labor leaders that would have blocked right-to-work legislation by guaranteeing collective bargaining rights in the state constitution.
The ballot measure thrust the issue to the forefront of debate and its failure emboldened Republicans, said Greg McNeilly, who runs Michigan Freedom Fund, a political action group pushing the right-to-work bill. The group is backed by Dick DeVos, a multimillionaire conservative activist whose family founded Amway.
“Bob King put this on the agenda,” McNeilly said, referencing the UAW president. “He threatened this state. He tried to bully and intimidate the state with this disastrous proposal that was so bad a majority of his members didn’t even back it. The whole state had a conversation. They lost.”
King, in an interview, repeatedly named the Koch brothers and DeVos as wealthy benefactors who, he said, “bullied and bought their way to get this legislation in Michigan.”
Scott Hagerstrom, Michigan director of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-backed group, said conservatives took away an important lesson from Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker (R) survived a union-backed recall campaign after moving to limit the powers of public workers’ unions.
“We said, ‘Hey, we can do this here,’ ” Hagerstrom said.
And so on Thursday, Michigan’s Republican-controlled state House and Senate each passed bills banning unions from requiring dues from private- and public-sector workers. Each measure must now be sent to the other chamber for final approval, which could occur as soon as Tuesday, and legislative leaders said there was little doubt that the bills would pass.
“This is possibly the most divisive issue that the Republicans could push in Michigan. It absolutely astonishes me that they would see such a huge Obama victory
. . .
and come back with an even more extreme agenda than they’ve already been pushing,” state Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer said.
Michigan is arguably the heart of unionism in the United States. The UAW was founded in Detroit in 1935 and quickly organized assembly workers in automobile plants throughout Michigan and across the nation. Its membership peaked in the 1970s at more than 1.5 million but has fallen to just under 400,000 after decades of declining domestic manufacturing.
Although most states in the South forbid unions from requiring workers to pay dues or fees, the industrial Midwest had long resisted such legislation. Earlier this year, however, Indiana passed a bill that mirrors the one on its way to passage in Michigan. Business leaders and other supporters of the Michigan bill said it would help the state compete for manufacturing jobs with Indiana; the Big Three auto companies are officially neutral on the issue.
“This is a game changer,” said state House Speaker Jase Bolger (R). “Now Michigan workers will have the freedom to choose which organizations they want to join or not join.”
Scott Clement contributed to this report.