10,000 Protesters Converge on Michigan Capitol as Gov. Snyder's Assault on Workers' Rights Signed Into Law
Union protesters in front of the Michigan Capitol today knocked down an enormous tent erected by Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-brothers-funded group that helped bring right to work to the state. State troopers arriving on horseback were helpless, bringing to mind images of Humpty Dumpty and all the king’s men.
Several dozen protesters were sitting down in the Capitol Rotunda, risking arrest, and more were outside the governor’s office. Three school districts were forced to close schools because so many teachers called off for the day.
Four giant inflatable rats in the 10,000-person crowd were named for prominent Republican politicians and their richest backer.
But despite the anger and the chants, the legislature made it official. Gov. Rick “The Nerd” Snyder was expected to sign right-to-work bills tomorrow.
Michigan unionists were shocked last Tuesday when Snyder announced his support for right to work. His legislative allies quickly did their part, passing the needed public and private sector bills last week as police used Mace to clear the Capitol of protesting union members.
Snyder had previously said right-to-work was too divisive and not on his agenda. Such laws outlaw union contracts that require all represented workers to pay dues, allowing members to resign and depleting union treasuries. United Auto Workers President Bob King, who has 151,000 members and 190,000 retirees in the state, said the governor’s about-face “blind-sided” him.
But the plan to make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state was long brewing. With 17.5 percent union density, the fifth-highest in the country, and a record of voting for Democratic presidents, Michigan was a tempting target for such billionaire-funded national groups as Americans for Prosperity (the Koch brothers) and for the state’s home-grown billionaire, Richard DeVos of the Amway fortune.
Writing in a blog for The Nation, Lee Fang shows that Americans for Prosperity’s Michigan chapter quadrupled its spending in 2010, the year Snyder was elected, to $1.1 million. The Mackinac Center, a longtime right-wing think tank in the state, spent $5.7 million last year, and stepped up its game last week to support Snyder’s move. DeVos funds both groups.
Long Time Coming
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer dates the campaign for right to work to at least 2007. A video shows former Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser speaking to a Tea Party meeting in August. Weiser, now finance chair of the Republican National Committee, describes meeting with DeVos, former Michigan Governor John Engler (now with the Business Roundtable), representatives from Americans for Prosperity, and Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma, which passed right to work in 2001. ( Here the CEO of Oklahoma's Chamber of Commerce admits he can't name any companies that moved to Oklahoma because of right to work.)
Weiser: “We hired a political consultant, and I invested a bunch of money and time, and I was working on that full-time from October  until March …. [After meeting with the above-named players], what we determined was that to win that election, and to be sure we were gonna win it, we couldn’t have a governor that was against it. So we decided to wait. Wait until we had a governor. Now we have a legislature and we have a governor.”
Those elements were in place by January 2011. But Snyder and the Republican majority in the legislature held off on right to work, perhaps warned by the tumult next door in Wisconsin that winter. Instead they pursued a piecemeal strategy, appointing “emergency managers” to run troubled cities and throw out union contracts, taking away teachers’ automatic dues deductions, rescinding domestic partner benefits for public employees, defining university research assistants, who were organizing, as non-workers, and a host of other measures that wouldn’t rile everyone at once.