ESCANABA - With Gov. Rick Snyder vowing to sign right-to-work legislation, which would prohibit requiring union dues as a condition of employment, many local residents on both sides of the issue are trying to make their voices heard.
"We absolutely believe that making Michigan a right-to-work state will put an open for business sign on the door," said Doug Sedenquist, U.P. spokesperson for the Michigan Freedom to Work Coalition and vice-president chair elect for the Delta County Republican Party.
Sedenquist, who was in Lansing on Thursday watching the legislature pass the bills that could make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state, was excited by the news. "It was almost surreal because we've been working on this for two years," he said.
Sedenquist believes the arguments of opponents of right-to-work legislation are outdated.
"They pretty much use talking points that anti-right-to-work people used 20 years ago, and a lot has changed in 20 years. We're not just competing with other countries for jobs. We're competing with other states," he said.
Opponents of the legislation view the timing of the bills as a direct attack on unions, and as a response to the failed Proposal 2. Proposal 2 would have added protections for collective bargaining to the state's constitution.
"It's a black day in the state for working families," said Frank Mongene, Uniserv Director for the Michigan Education Association's Escanaba Branch. "Our legislators are attacking the working class."
While supporters of right-to-work legislation say the change will bring jobs to Michigan, unions themselves may have to cut positions. "We operate like a business and if dues money doesn't come in we'll have to lay people off and cut services," said Mongene.
Because non-union employees often are affected by union negotiations, some argue reducing the money unions receive will make it difficult for all workers to negotiate fair wages.
"I think one of the things this creates is middle class folks who have non-family-supporting wages, and it makes people who want all the benefits of unions without paying any of the dues," said Tony Retaskie, executive director of the U.P. Construction Council.
Rhonda Martineau, president of Escanaba's Education Association, agrees. "It does make sense to pay for a service that you are receiving, however. If someone is going to go in and spend their time working out a contract that I will then benefit from, I would want to compensate them. It's the right thing to do," she said.
Martineau also noted there are exceptions to the right to work legislation. "This legislation excludes our policemen and firefighters, so it begs the question as to why it would be something 'good' for the rest of us?" she said.
Multiple buses and cars transported demonstrators from across the U.P. to Lansing Monday to protest the legislation. Today's protests are scheduled to run from 9 a.m. until 3 or 4 p.m., but could run longer.
"We're hopeful that the governor will review what has taken place up until this point and veto the legislation when it hits his desk," said Mike Thibault, building trades business representative and chairman of the Marquette County Labor Council. He took a bus to Lansing Monday morning.
"We think it's a race to the bottom. Working class people are consumers and if they have less money in their pockets it's hard to believe it would help our businesses," Thibault added.
Last week, demonstrators flooded the capitol building chanting and using whistles. Thursday, eight demonstrators were arrested after authorities say they disobeyed orders and tried to rush past two state troopers and into the Senate chamber.
Despite differing opinions, right-to-work advocates and opponents have found reasons to thank elected officials from the U.P.
Both Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, and Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, voted against the legislation. "I'm very appreciative that they stood up for the working families in Michigan," said Mongene.