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Déjà vu All Over Again

February 2nd, 2012  |  Matt Pavich

Following the 2010 midterm elections, organized labor knew it was in for the fight of its life. The elections had swept in a crop of state governors who blamed unions, specifically public sector unions, for the sorry financial states they inherited. Those governors, who included Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio, were ready to do battle.

Overall, 2010 wasn’t terrible for labor on the state level. They saw anti-collective bargaining laws pass in Ohio and Wisconsin, but they overturned the former in a referendum and have forced a recall election for Walker. In New Hampshire, a right-to-work bill was unable to defeat a gubernatorial veto and Indiana’s Mitch Daniels shot down similar legislation in his own state. By the time the New Year’s confetti was ready to drop, organized labor could have been forgiven for thinking that the worst was behind it.

Not so fast, fellas.

2012 has seen a rush of anti-union legislation and labor seems a bit taken aback. Indiana, on Wednesday, February 1, became the first state in a decade to enact right-to-work legislation, after Daniels signed a bill that passed the state Senate only hours earlier. The Senate voted 28-22 to pass the legislation. House Bill 1001 was passed by the Indiana House one week earlier and similar legislation was a point of contention for the last year. In 2011, Democratic representatives left the state in order to deny a quorum on the bill. At that time, Daniels said that he did not support bringing the bill forward, because the voters had not been prepared for the push. Beginning at the end of 2011, however, Daniels signaled that he was ready to sign right-to-work legislation. Oklahoma was the last state to enact such legislation, and Indiana is the first state in the rust belt to make the switch.

In response, Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO could barely muster a snort of protest, calling it a “shame.” Trumka seemed dazed by the swiftness of the passage of a bill that seemed deader than Marley’s ghost last year.

Meanwhile, Arizona may soon follow Wisconsin and Ohio in barring collective bargaining by public employees. The state senate’s Committee on Government Reform voted to pass a bill that would prohibit all state and local governments and school districts from bargaining with public employee unions.

Under S.B. 1485, state and local governmental entities would be barred from recognizing or negotiating with a union representing its employees. It would not affect current contracts, but unions would be unable to negotiate a successor contract.

The committee also voted to pass three other bills. S.B.1484 would bar employers from deducting union dues from employee paychecks without their authorization. S.B.1486 bars cities and counties from paying release time to workers who are actually doing union business. S.B.1487 bars government entities from withholding union dues from employee paychecks.

Not to be outsdone, the Michigan House of Representatives, on Wednesday, February 1, passed a package of labor reform bills sharply criticized as blatant anti-union measures. The legislation was introduced last week in the House Oversight, Reform and Ethics Committee and must now be passed by the state Senate before being sent to Governor Rick Snyder.

House Bill 5023 states that public employees shall neither go on strike nor initiate a lockout. Employees who violate the prohibition would be fined either one day’s wages for each day they engaged in the work action, or $500 for each day; unions would be fined $5,000 for each day that public employee members went on strike.

House Bill 5024 would allow employers to sue striking workers who get in the way of their businesses. Workers found in violation would be subjected to daily $1,000 fines and unions would face daily $10,000 fines.

Lastly, House Bill 5025 would make it illegal for employers to deduct union dues and contributions from employee paychecks without the express, written consent of the employee.

If Michigan follows Indiana and Ohio down the path of tough anti-union legislation, organized labor better watch out. The pitchforks are out and the budget cutting axes are sharp.