Michigan’s new right-to-work law has has struck a savage blow to America’s labor movement in its heartland. Unions across the state have thronged to Lansing to oppose the attack, which makes union membership optional and thus reduces labor’s bargaining clout. But tucked into the legislation are subtle exemptions for particular workers—police and firefighters, who have historically played by a different set of rules, creating political divides in the labor movement.
But in this case, it seems that many members of Michigan’s police and firefighters unions—about 1,700 bargaining units altogether—are standing in solidarity with other public-sector unions to oppose the law.
Georgetown University labor historian Joseph McCartin, in an email to In These Times, points out the hypocrisy of lawmakers in exempting these honored civil servants from a supposedly “pro-worker” new law:
If these initiatives were pro-worker [as Governor Rick Snyder has claimed], why wouldn’t they also be good for public safety workers?… The exemption makes the intentions of the laws framers’ crystal clear: they intend to undermine organizations that ally with their political opponents.
Right-to-work proponents argue variously that the nature of police and firefighter work requires an exception and that Michigan’s special set of collective-bargaining rules for public-safety unions places them on a separate tier. But union workers offer a more straightforward explanation: Divide and conquer. Read the rest of this entry →