|ALEC brought me here to make corporation live easier.|
Michigan’s history of strong labor unions hasn’t exactly been a key selling point for economic developers looking to attract investment here.
Their story line in explaining it goes something like this:
Yes, Michigan has seen its share of labor-management conflicts. Some were historic, such as the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936 and 1937, and the 1937 Battle of the Overpass at Ford’s sprawling Rouge complex.
That was then. Today, labor and management are cooperating like never before to improve business competitiveness and provide good jobs at the automakers and other companies.
Global competition in manufacturing and a profound shift to a service economy have greatly reduced the chance that a company investing in Michigan will be organized by a labor union.
But Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican lawmakers have shredded that narrative.
Their actions have put in motion what is likely to be a nasty political fight this fall that could destroy years of progress in labor-management relations.
Business-friendly Republicans have been threatening for months to introduceright-to-work legislation. The measure would ban labor contracts that require workers to join unions and pay dues as a condition of employment.
Indiana in February became the first Great Lakes state to adopt right to work. Supporters say that increases pressure on Michigan to do the same.
Snyder has said he doesn’t want to see a right-to-work bill on his desk, calling it too divisive. But the governor has refused to say that he would veto the legislation.
Labor leaders and others opposed to right to work don’t think he would veto it. Their view is supported by a 2010 video interview that has been circulating in which Snyder says he would sign such legislation.
The unions have responded with a bold preemptive strike. They’re collecting signatures to put a proposal on the November ballot that would enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution.
If the measure gets on the ballot, and many political observers think it will, we’ll see a return to the bad old days of labor and business disparaging each other in ugly rhetoric and nasty ads.
And the world will be watching.
Snyder has publicly exhorted backers of the proposed constitutional amendment to withdraw it. So has the politically powerful Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which has not taken a position on right to work.
But it’s hard to see how a head-on collision involving labor and business interests can be avoided. Trust between the two sides appears to be shattered.
And the jobs of Michigan’s state and local economic developers just got a lot harder.