Michigan State Police manhandling protesters. Picture taken from www.abc15.com
While the Michigan Legislature was kneecapping the unions in the state with their “Right To Work” law
, State Rep Tim Bledsoe made a statement to protest the passage of the bill. Tim Bledsoe
represents the 1st District in Michigan, which contains some of the richest people in the state, and isn’t someone I would have thought would be receptive to union rights, especially since he isn’t even a native son of the great state of Michigan. However, I was pleasantly surprised to read his words in the minutes of that fateful session.
Here they are, as they were recorded in the official minutes:
Rep. Bledsoe, having reserved the right to explain his protest against the passage of the bill, made the following statement:
“Mr. Speaker and members of the House:
Mr. Speaker, I struggled to come up with the right approach for this speech. In the end, concluding that there was enough passion out there and that my passionate voice was un-needed, I decided to revert to my primary career role of, for want of a better term ‘dispelling ignorance.’ There is a lot of ignorance involving right to work.
The primary argument I hear on behalf of a right to work bill involves the unfettered freedom of workers to choose to avoid dues or agency fees. Freedom: a noble goal but a much-abused concept. Who, after all, can be opposed to ‘freedom’.
But indeed there are a number of cases, almost identical to the agency shop, where freedom is compromised – indeed – compromised by conservative and Republican leaning economic players.
Ever heard of the slogan ‘The Incredible, Edible Egg’ – Most of you have. Egg producers used this as a marketing tool to promote their industry – funded by a compulsory fee – a compulsory fee – on large egg producers.
Ever heard of the slogan ‘Beef – Its what’s for dinner’ – Most of you have. Cattle ranchers were assessed a per head fee – a compulsory per-head fee – on all cattle brought to slaughter in the United States. And yes, this was challenged in court – and upheld.
Ever heard of Pork being the other white meat? You guessed it – a marketing campaign by pork producers and funded by a per pig fee – a compulsory per pig fee – on every hog brought to slaughter.
‘Got Milk?’ Who has not heard that slogan by Dairy Producers funded by a per gallon fee — excuse me, a compulsory per gallon fee — on all milk sold in the United States.
So please, let’s keep these arguments for economic freedom in perspective. Freedom is rarely absolute, and compulsory workplace fees are not at all uncommon.
Another point about which there appears to be some confusion is the ‘Free rider problem’. To be clear, it IS a fact that federal law REQUIRES unions to represent and work for all employees in the workplace, union members and non-members – even pursuing grievances against management on behalf of non-members. This is called the ‘Duty of Fair Representation’ and is derived from court rulings pertaining to the National Labor Relations Act. Free-riders do exist in every right to work state – and will exist in Michigan. The get-something and pay nothing motive runs strong among many people – too many.
The economic prosperity argument offers that a right to work law will bring new jobs to Michigan. There are any number of economic analyses involving macro-economic outcomes associated with right to work laws. The evidence is really not compelling that new jobs are created in right to work states. The simple fact is that there are too many other cultural, economic, and policy differences among the states to conclude that right to work laws cause the creation of new jobs.
Let me talk of two other areas of common ignorance pertaining to right to work – ignorance of our state’s important labor history and ignorance involving democratic principles and political accountability.
In some ways, Michigan is the birthplace of the modern labor movement in America. It wasn’t an easy birthing by any means.
Strikes and violence against strikers was common in the 1930s. Reading an account of the so-called ‘Battle of the Overpass’ that took place in Detroit in May of 1937 gives one a chilling appreciation for the difficulties faced by early union organizers here in Michigan.
I am quoting and paraphrasing here: ‘At approximately 2 p.m., several of the leading UAW union organizers, including Walter Reuther, were asked by a Detroit News photographer to pose for a picture on the overpass, with the Ford sign in the background. While they were posing, men from Ford’s Service Department, an internal security force, came from behind and began to beat them. The number of attackers is disputed, but may have been as many as 40.
Walter Reuther described some of the treatment he received: ‘Seven times they raised me off the concrete and slammed me down on it. They pinned my arms . . . and I was punched and kicked and dragged by my feet to the stairway, thrown down the first flight of steps, picked up, slammed down on the platform and kicked down the second flight. On the ground they beat and kicked me some more. . .’
One union organizer suffered a broken back as the result of the beating he received.
The company security men then beat some of the beret-wearing women arriving to pass out leaflets, along with some reporters and photographers, while Dearborn police at the scene largely ignored the violence.
Friends, this did not take place in apartheid South Africa, Communist Eastern Europe, North Korea, or another third world country; nor did anything like this take place in Mississippi, Alabama, or any other long standing right to work state. This is a part of Michigan’s history, and a part of its history about which backers of right to work seem oblivious.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, as a close follower of democratic theory, let me point out how anti-democratic it is for a bill of this magnitude to be voted on by a membership the majority of whom are effective LAME DUCKS. That’s right, of the 110 members who will vote on this and other bills this month, 57, a majority, are effective lame ducks.
You see, with term limits, neither those leaving this December 31st, nor those termed out December 31st of 2014, will face the voters again. There is no holding the majority of members of this chamber accountable for their votes, and thus this truly is a remarkably undemocratic effort. The founding fathers would turn over in their graves at the prospect of the walking political dead making monumental policy decisions that will shape outcomes for years to come.
Mr. Speaker, I hope my comments have served to shed some light on a subject about which there is much heat. A thoughtful consideration of the facts that I have presented will lead to a ‘No’ vote on right to work in Michigan.
Thank you Mr. Speaker.”
Two quick things: 1) The section about free-riders is very interesting, because usually conservatives are against the whole “get-something and pay nothing motive” that he mentions. I suppose they are for it if is something that hurts their liberal opponents. 2) His argument about the anti-democratic way this bill was pushed through is probably my main problem with this whole debacle. I don’t like the bill itself, but the way the whole process was done is repugnant to me. To me, the Michigan Republicans have proven that they are not to be trusted (not even by their own people) and are certainly not worth the benefit of the doubt.