Embattled Snyder Says Michigan Labor Fight 'Fundamentally Different' From Wisconsin
Tensions exploded in Lansing Thursday as Gov. Rick Snyder jumped on board a lame-duck Republican effort to make Michigan the 24th state to pass right-to-work legislation, ending mandatory payment of union dues. In an interview Thursday afternoon, Snyder shied away from comparisons to Wisconsin's 2011 labor protests and maintained that the push to pass the law was instigated by a union attempt to lock collective bargaining rights into Michigan's state constitution. He also dismissed the notion that his late support for right-to-work was due to arm-twisting from the Republican legislature. "I feel very comfortable with [the legislation]," Snyder said.
Republicans in the state House and Senate quickly brought right-to-work bills to the floor Thursday, and police closed off the state Capitol as it swelled with protesters. Still, Snyder rejected the idea that his drawing of union ire was comparable to the 2011 battles Gov. Scott Walker faced in Wisconsin. "Wisconsin and Ohio were on collective bargaining," Snyder said. "This is a fundamentally different issue. I still believe in collective bargaining."
While Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have been labeled firebrands by some, Snyder has thus far avoided that distinction. Labor leaders said that won't last long. "He made a decision that he wants to stake his legacy on a bill that's going to make Michigan weaker," said Jon Hoadley, campaign manager for the progressive coalition Working Michigan. "I think it's going to be hard for him to hide from his record now."
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka echoed that sentiment in a statement released Thursday afternoon. "With his announcement, Gov. Snyder joins a list of other governors -- John Kasich, Scott Walker, and others -- who have acted to put the future of their states in the hands of big corporations and CEOs and leave working families behind," said Trumka. Robert McCann, communications director for the Michigan Senate Democratic Caucus, didn’t mince words: “The perception of him now is just a weak puppet of the Republican party. ... He's not a moderate, he's just weak.”
Even as police pepper sprayed and arrested activists at the state Capitol in the hours following his endorsement of the law, Snyder tried to maintain a moderate image as he discussed his decision to finally support right-to-work. "It was becoming a divisive issue whether I was involved or not," Snyder said. "We were getting to the point of having people protesting anyway, so let's address the issue."
Snyder blamed labor activists for launching the first salvo with Proposal 2, a defeated ballot measure that would have preserved collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. Snyder said he tried to warn labor leaders that "creating this dialogue is going open up the broader discussion on other labor issues. It could have been quite a bit different. I don't necessarily think we'd be in this circumstance had Proposal 2 not been on the ballot."
Hoadley's response was blunt: "That's scapegoating." However, Inside Michigan Politics editor Bill Ballenger said Snyder's support for right-to-work may well have been a response to Proposal 2. "They struck at the king, and they got clobbered," Ballenger said. "... [Snyder] had his finger in the dike saying 'it's not on my agenda,' and they went ahead and did it anyway and they got killed."
In the press conference Thursday morning announcing his support, Snyder emphasized that the "issue was on the table whether I wanted it to be or not," but in a later interview refused to say Republican legislators forced his hand. He said rising voices on both sides necessitated his response, and in meetings with union leaders he sought "alternative resolutions that people could all feel good about. That didn't come about."
Ballenger said there was a possibility that "if [Snyder] undercut [Republicans] on right-to-work, they'd say 'to hell with you, governor'" and refuse to support his agenda. "It's clear that they're trying to bully him around," said Hoadley. "They're withholding key things that he wants."
Democratic Rep. David Curson, a UAW negotiator recently elected to a seven-week term in Congress (he won a special election to replace former Rep. Thad McCotter for the end of his term), expressed his outrage at the legislation. "I will work as hard as I can to end this lunacy," Curson said. "Our nation is on the brink of catastrophe if we can't settle the fiscal cliff and now my home state drives even more employers away by engaging in a needlessly divisive and protracted battle with workers. "
Curson said Snyder's decision would galvanize 2014 challengers to take on the governor, but would not say if that number might include him. "This fight is for Michigan's future and will surely spawn a number of qualified leaders to bring real leadership to Michigan if Governor Snyder signs a divisive RTW bill," Curson said. "As for myself, I'm working through the challenges I have today and will think about those things some other time."