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March 8th, 2012
Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, says a Right to Work law is not a priority for his administration, and a number of Midwest governors agree. But the Michigan legislature has taken aim at a tenet of collective bargaining for the state’s teachers.
On Wednesday, the Republican controlled legislature sent Snyder a bill that that prohibits public schools from automatically collecting dues from teachers and other school employees’ paychecks. The step affects teachers and employees from kindergarten through high school.
Supporters say the legislation will free up schools from doing the bookkeeping for unions, and require union members to write separate checks, or arrange for the money to be withdrawn from their accounts.
The ability to pay union dues via deduction has long been a method used by organized labor to encourage people to sign up. Labor leaders often have worried that if it’s difficult to pay dues, many people won’t bother.
“It could not have been a worse day,” David Hecker, the president of the Michigan branch of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a email to his members. (Read and listen to Changing Gears’ coverage of the issues facing teachers.)
Hecker said he believed the step was in retaliation for a petition drive that labor groups have launched to keep the state from enacting a Right to Work law.
These laws, like the one that recently took effect in Indiana, prohibit unions from automatically collecting dues from employees, even when the union represents their workplace.
Michigan unions want voters to consider a proposal this fall that would keep the state’s current closed shop status intact. In Michigan and many other Great Lakes states, employees must pay union dues when their work place is organized, whether or not they join the union.
Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., says he expects to see Republican-controlled legislatures try the same tactic as Michigan lawmakers, in the battle over union rights.
Such specific campaigns are easier than trying to strip public employees of all their collective bargaining rights, which worked for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker last year, but which backfired in Ohio. Voters there repealed a law signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich that took collective bargaining rights away from public employees.
The broad efforts “aren’t worth the bother,” Chaison said.