Michigan Anti-Worker Laws
Step Up Organized Resistance
Michigan has passed three anti-worker and anti-democratic laws targeting the workers and their unions and more broadly the public interest. The monopolies and their political agents are conspiring to divide the workers and undermine their resistance. They are also imposing new arrangements of governance that eliminate elected governance or greatly restrict its powers, while strengthening executive dictate serving monopoly interests.
Michigan, known for its organized resistance by the working class, is being used as a model for the rich. They are utilizing the state to impose the attacks on the workers while also guaranteeing yet more payments to the rich. The “Right to be a Slave” law for public sector workers especially targets teachers, banning many key issues from negotiations. These include teacher placement, layoffs, evaluations and “pilot programs” using non-teachers, internet classes, and so forth (see article below). Education is one of the main areas where the rich are striving to secure public funds for their private interests.
Michigan auto monopolies are notorious for securing massive payments from the public treasury at the federal, state and local level. Michigan reportedly gives the monopolies annual grants, corporate tax credits, free services and other "incentives" to the tune of $6.5 billion per year, in large measure distributed to the auto monopolies. This $6.5 billion amounts to 30 per cent of the state's annual budget.
To grab the federal bail out and continuing payments, the auto monopolies insist that if public money is not poured into their private coffers, they will destroy production facilities and workers' livelihoods. Whole communities were put on the chopping block. The Obama and Michigan governments submitted to this extortion declaring that no alternative exists to paying the rich.
The transfer of wealth from the public treasury to private monopoly interests through pay-the-rich schemes, and from workers and their communities to those same private interests through concessions has enormous negative implications for the well-being of workers, their communities, for Michigan and for the general interests of society. The organized working class movement and its resistance can and must end this transfer of wealth to the rich! The alternative is to Stop Paying the Rich and Increase Funding to Social Programs. This will serve the economy and the public interest. The alternative is to demand a new pro-social direction for the economy. This includes ending payments to Wall Street on the debt.
To prevent workers from effectively resisting the massive transfer of wealth, the federal and Michigan governments are attacking workers' rights and their organizations. Michigan's "right to work" laws weaken unions' organizing and financial base. They are criminalizing resistance while also blocking the right of public sector workers, especially teachers, to negotiate on vital elements of their working conditions and pay.
Further, the new “Emergency Managers” law shows that the rich will not even abide by their own elections. Voters in Michigan repealed the old “Emergency Managers" law November 6, yet on December 13 the state government passed a new law, with the same brutal attacks on elected governance and the public interest. Public institutions and arrangements where the public at least has some say, such as legislative hearings and voting in referenda, are being destroyed, while the private monopoly interests are guaranteed by the state.
All three laws show the necessity for a new direction for the economy and for political affairs. An economy that is pro-social and anti-war is needed and it is the responsibility of the working class to fight for it. A new direction for political affairs that embraces the drive of the people to defend the public interest by themselves governing and deciding is also necessary. Strengthening resistance and organization to take up this agenda opens a path forward.
Unprecedented Anti-Worker and Anti-Union Attacks
Using a “fast track” method, with little public debate and no committee hearings, the Michigan Legislature rapidly passed two “Right to be a Slave” laws, one for the private sector and one for public sector workers, including teachers. The laws, known as “Right to Work” (RTW) laws, are legislation that the monopolies and their political representatives think will cripple the union movement by depriving it of necessary funds for operations and organizing. With this legislative attack and the broad introduction of multi-tiered workforces with varying wages and benefits even within the same enterprise, private and public, the monopolies and their political agents are conspiring to divide the working class and blunt its resistance.
The more than twenty thousand workers from all sectors that demonstrated against the bill and filled the Capitol building in Lansing to demand the bill be defeated indicates otherwise. Three school districts were forced to close schools because so many teachers called off for the day of action December 11. Workers statewide and from neighboring states participated. Workers also targeted the politicizing of private interests, through groups such as Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-brothers-funded group that spent millions organizing to get the “Right to be a Slave” law passed in Michigan. Americans for Prosperity had a huge tent erected outside the Capitol building that workers knocked down, defying state troopers on horseback.
Workers also held the state’s homegrown billionaire, Richard DeVos of the Amway fortune to account for using his wealth to back these anti-worker laws. The Mackinac Center, funded by DeVos, spent $5.7 million last year, and stepped up its in the past few weeks to get the bills passed.
The spirit of the workers is that far from stopping resistance now that the laws exist, they are discussing additional tactics. These include one-day strikes, such as those used by Walmart workers nationwide on Black Friday and McDonald’s and other fast food workers in New York. And they include more political organizing, to hold existing politicians to account, repeal the laws and in the course of resistance organize to bring forward worker politicians to represent the workers and their pro-social agenda.
Both the laws eliminate the closed shop, meaning that workers in a given enterprise or public workplace are not required to become union members and pay dues as a condition of employment. Dues are not automatically deducted from paychecks. Any contract negotiated to include such measures is also outlawed. These measures deprive the unions of organizing funds and are an effort to divide the workers and further lower the standard of living for all workers.
In addition the laws contain sections that will likely be used to criminalize resistance. A “labor dispute,” for example, includes “any controversy, concerning terms, tenure, or conditions of employment, or concerning the association or representation of employees negotiating, fixing, maintaining or changing terms or conditions of employment, regardless of whether the disputant stand in the proximate relation of employer and employee,” (section 2b). This is directed at actions by community and other support groups, secondary boycotts and pickets, and so forth. As well, “an employee or other person shall not by force, intimidation or unlawful threat compel or attempt to compel any person to do any of the following: (a) become a member of or remain a member of a labor organization…(b) refrain from engaging in employment or refrain from joining a labor organization…” The law is written to appear to be “balanced” but in fact can readily be used against those picketing, striving to stop scabs, organizing unions and so forth. What constitutes “intimidation” and “unlawful threat” is not defined and will no doubt be arbitrarily used by employers and police against those fighting for rights, both workers and “other persons.”
These "Right to be a Slave" laws are aimed directly at workers' organizations and their resistance. They are a means to open the way for the monopolies to rob yet more of the public treasury, especially in the field of education. "Pilot programs" dictated by the monopolies and funded by the state — contracting out, effectively eliminating bargaining units — all contribute to ensuring the state pays the rich even more. In Michigan and elsewhere, the demand is to Stop Paying the Rich. The antidote to these attacks is to fight back directly with more vigorous organizing, resistance and a social consciousness that demands a new direction for the economy so it serves to guarantee the rights of the people.
The “Right to be a Slave” law for public sector workers, in addition to the same anti-worker and anti-union attacks in the law for private sector workers, contains a long list of significant issues that cannot be part of negotiations. It also more broadly defines what constitutes a “strike,” covering an array of potential tactics. For example, a strike “means the concerted failure to report for duty, the willful absence from one’s position, the stoppage of work, or the abstinence in whole or in part from the full, faithful and proper performance of the duties of employment for the purpose of inducing, influencing or coercing a change in employment conditions, compensation, or the rights, privileges or obligations of employment.” It also includes an action “that is taken for the purpose of protesting or responding to an act alleged or determined to be an unfair labor practice committed by the public school employer,” (section 1j). In this manner, unfair labor practices are permitted, but any protest against them outlawed! And the employer is the one to decide what constitutes the “full, faithful and proper performance of duties.” All of this serves to undermine and criminalize collective actions and organizing by public workers.
The law (section 15) includes many significant issues that have previously been part of negotiations and are now banned and said to be “the sole authority of the public employer to decide.” For example, “any decision made by the public school employer regarding teacher placement, or the impact of that decision on an individual employee or the bargaining unit” (15j) cannot be negotiated. This is a direct attack on seniority and creates conditions of great uncertainty, as teachers can be placed anywhere within the system and cannot challenge such arbitrary actions. Similarly decisions concerning “staffing reductions,” and “content, standards, procedures, adoption and implementation” of the policies for such layoffs are also not to be negotiated (15k).
Decisions concerning which insurance company is used for healthcare benefits is not part of negotiations. In various contracts, more than one carrier has been utilized in the past, to the benefit of the workers. There has been resistance to having one company, such as Blue Cross, have a monopoly on all public sector workers. This law now guarantees such a monopoly for the chosen insurance company and the accompanying lowering of care and increasing of payments monopolies impose.
The start time for the school day and amount of pupil contact time required cannot be negotiated. The decision to contract out non-instructional support services and the impact on existing workers is now decided solely by the public employer. So too is use of volunteers, “decisions concerning use and staffing of experimental or pilot programs and decisions concerning use of technology to deliver educational programs and services and staffing to provide that technology, or the impact of those decisions on” existing workers (15f & h). In this manner, numerous people and pilot programs, including internet classes, for example, can be brought in and utilized and existing teachers have no say in the matter.
Teacher evaluation programs, which are being implemented nationwide, consistent with demands from the federal government, are also not part of negotiations. This is significant as such evaluations are going to be used to justify firing teachers, as well as for deciding pay grades and bonuses. The evaluation programs being put in place have already shown themselves to be arbitrary and unreliable, with no consistent measure established to base evaluations on. It is a major source of conflict as teachers strive to defend the quality of education and resist efforts to divide them and undermine the quality of their working conditions. The law is written specifically to stop such resistance, saying “Decisions about the development, content, standards, procedures, adoption, and implementation of a public school employer’s performance evaluation system,” for employees and “decisions concerning the content of a performance evaluation” are not to be negotiated (15l). Connected with this, the “development, content, standards, procedures, adoption, and implementation of the method of compensation” and “how an employee performance evaluation is used to determine performance-based compensation” is also not part of negotiations.
The arbitrary evaluation systems and pay based on them are all to be determined solely by the public school employer and teachers and their collectives are to have no say. A system designed to have each teacher paid a different amount, have different qualifications, and face arbitrary firing or moving at any time is all put in place, while the right of teachers to defend their rights is outlawed. And given that Michigan also has in place the ability for the Governor to appoint an “emergency manager” to take over school districts, these employer decisions could well be made by an individual with no education background, appointed by the Governor, as has already occurred in Detroit. Indeed, the law specifically requires that “each collective bargaining agreement entered into between a public employer and public employees under this act after March 16, 2011 shall include a provision that allows an emergency manager” to “reject, modify, or terminate the collective bargaining agreement.”
These “Right to be a Slave” laws are aimed directly at workers' organizations and their resistance. They are a means to open the way for the monopolies to rob yet more of the public treasury, especially in the field of education. “Pilot programs” dictated by the monopolies and funded by the state, contracting out, effectively eliminating bargaining units, all contribute to ensuring the state pays the rich even more. In Michigan and elsewhere, the demand is to Stop Paying the Rich. The antidote to these attacks is to fight back directly with more vigorous organizing, resistance and a social consciousness that demands a new direction for the economy that serves the people.
New “Emergency Managers” Law Passed Despite Voters’ Repeal of Old law
On December 13, the Michigan Legislature passed a new “Emergency Managers” law. This occurred quickly, right at the end of the “lame duck” session, with little public debate, much like the “Right to be Slave Labor” (Right to Work) bills that also passed. In doing so, the legislature went directly against the public will, expressed in the vote November 6 to repeal the 2011 “Emergency Managers” law, Public Act No.4.
The Michigan Senate passed the new bill on a 23-15 vote December 13, after the House approved it December 12 in a 63-46 vote. Both votes were mostly along party lines in the Republican-controlled legislature. At press time the bill awaits the signature of Governor Rick Snyder, who is expected to sign it. It does not come into effect until March. Organizers of the successful referendum are planning legal and other challenges.
On November 6, Michigan voters repealed Public Act No.4, also known as the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act. Public Act No.4 put in place mechanisms for the Governor to appoint an “Emergency Financial Manager” for any unit of local governance, including towns, city and county government as well as school districts. The appointed “manager” was given broad powers to dismiss elected local governance; take control of budgets and issuance of bonds; approve or eliminate existing contracts and negotiate, or not, all future contracts; hire, fire and layoff public workers; sell public assets like school buildings, libraries and water rights; guarantee debt payments and more. Public Act 4 was a law that made “fiscal management” for the monopolies the central aim of governance while also eliminating the role of elected governance and that of the public in general. It was a mechanism to destroy public institutions and assets.
Having had experience with these “managers” in places like Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor and the Detroit public schools, Michigan voters acted to repeal the law using a statewide referendum. The powers to broadly attack the rights of workers and eliminate elected governance were widely opposed, including through many mass actions, and played a main role in the success of the repeal effort.
Completely ignoring this public decision, the legislature re-imposed the law, with a few small changes. All the key powers attacking the public, such as those listed above, remain. One slight difference was to include language giving local governments a “choice” in responding once the Governor decides a “financial emergency” exists. The “choices” are: a consent agreement, mediation, an emergency manager or Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Those opposing the new law bring out that the “choice” has to be approved by the state. And all the “choices” still undermine elected governance and public right while protecting the monopolies. Bankruptcies, for example are routinely used to make big scores for the monopolies and attack rights, such as pensions.
Organizers of the repeal also condemned the legislature for adding an appropriations measure to the new law, which means it cannot be repealed through ballot referendum. It can be repealed through what is known as a “citizen initiative,” which requires signatures from 8 percent of the total vote for Governor. A ballot referendum requires 5 percent. Discussion is underway as to whether to attempt such an initiative for the next election.
The latest “Emergency Managers” law together with the “Right to be Slave Labor” laws that also passed rapidly and largely in secret make clear that Michigan is a model for imposing new governing arrangements that attack the public interest and eliminate the role of the public, whether it be through eliminating elected governments and public participation in debates on legislation, or dismissing referenda, or privatizing public assets, and so forth. The public interest is being depoliticized and public assets destroyed. Nothing is to stand in the way of the private interests of the most powerful monopolies and the state is to guarantee that nothing does.
The most powerful monopolies believe that if the workers in Michigan, known for their resistance and organization, can be broken, so can all others. Broad demonstrations met the passing of these anti-worker laws and further organizing efforts of various kinds are underway. Increasingly there is recognition of the need for broad and organized political opposition by the workers. A new democracy of our own making is required, one that includes bringing forward worker politicians and organizing empowerment councils.