Right to Work
8:23 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

WSW: How Right to Work Became Law in Michigan

Protesters rally at the state Capitol in 2012 opposing a "right to work" law for Michigan - file photo
Credit The Associated Press

WestSouthwest with Andy Kroll

    

Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll takes a look at how a "conservative pipe dream" became reality in Michigan. 

Kroll's article Meet the New Kochs: the DeVos Clan's Plan to Defund the Left examines how the idea on a "conservative wish list" became something that had a chance, and could spread beyond Michigan. Kroll, a Portage Central High School graduate, says DeVos' money and political network was essential to making right to work the law in Michigan.

DeVos and his allies had polling information in 2007 that was favorable to passing a right to work law. But Kroll says supporters in Michigan started working behind the scenes to make it happen. They also waited for the right moment to try to push the idea. 

Extended interview with Andy Kroll - web version

Whether a failed ballot initiative to guarantee collective bargaining rights in the Michigan Constitution was the opening that the conservatives needed is in dispute. Kroll calls it a "chicken and egg" situation. DeVos and others say the ballot proposal gave them a chance to push a right to work law.

But Kroll says union officials told him that right to work was already in the works. They launched the ballot proposal as a "preemptive strike." But the proposed amendment to the state Constitution was rejected by voters. 

Kroll says the roughly month-long window between Election Day 2012 and December when Governor Rick Snyder signed the bill into law was "an absolute frenzy of lobbying between unions and the Legislature."

Kroll says the roughly month-long window between Election Day 2012 and December when Governor Rick Snyder signed the bill into law was "an absolute frenzy of lobbying between unions and the Legislature." Kroll says several deals were proposed to get the "right to work" law off the table. But no agreement was reached. 

Before the final vote lawmakers on the fence felt pressure to approve "right to work." Kroll says one lawmaker was told that he would face a primary challenge unless he voted for the right to work bill. Eventually there were enough votes to approve the bill and for Governor Snyder to sign it into law. 

Now that Michigan has become the 24th state to approve a right to work law, conservative activists hope to spread it to other states. Kroll says DeVos and other right to work supporters have been speaking at conservative gatherings on how the law passed in Michigan. Kroll says the message is "If we can do it in Michigan, you can do it anywhere."

But the right to work movement is about more than union-free workplaces. Kroll says if right to work can reduce union membership, it will hurt organized labor. Even with declining membership, unions are still an important part of the Democratic party organizing and fundraising base. Kroll says that's why "they see right to work laws as toxic."