'All-out war in Michigan': A guide to the bruising right-to-work fight

Republicans in one of America's most pro-union states are about to strike a big blow against organized labor

Union workers protest outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., on Dec. 6.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The ongoing showdown in Wisconsin between organized labor and state Republicans has been brutal for unions, and Badger State civility. But what's happening in Michigan is "far worse," says Rich Yeselson at The American Prospect. Last Thursday, the GOP-dominated state House and Senate, meeting in a special lame-duck session, pushed through controversial "right to work" bills; after a mandatory five-day waiting period, each chamber will pass the other's bill on Tuesday, and Gov. Rick Snyder (R) says he will sign it. This all happened quite suddenly, surprising unions, Democrats, and outside observers — not least because until Thursday, Snyder said he didn't want such a law.

So, what is a "right-to-work" law? The first thing to know: "The name is misleading," says Jeff Karoub of The Associated Press. "It isn't about a right to work but rather a right for workers to choose whether they want to join a union or pay fees similar to union dues." In Michigan, if you're employed in a unionized workplace and you choose not to join, unions have the right to collect a fee for their work negotiating your wage and benefits. In the Michigan version of the law, police and firefighter unions are exempt. Currently, 23 states have right-to-work laws; Michigan would be No. 24.

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