In a surprise that caught most observers off-guard, Michigan, the birthplace of the modern labor movement, will become a so-called right-to-work state in just a few days. The Nation’s John Nichols put up a post explaining how Governor Rick Snyder (R) quickly announced the bill earlier this week, rammed it through both legislative chambers within a day, and is on track to sign in it soon.
The measure, which will unravel unions in Michigan and likely lead to wage and benefit cuts down the road, has been long sought by powerful corporate interests and a small group of politically active billionaires.
How were they able to achieve such a success, in a historically union-friendly state like Michigan?
By most accounts, Snyder and his allies took everyone by surprise. On Tuesday evening, Snyder called a press conference to say he would be reversing himself, and would be throwing his weight for the first time behind making Michigan a right-to-work state. The day Snyder unveiled his new position on the controversial law, several business lobby groups endorsed the bill, and a $1 million television and radio ad campaign began airing in local media to encourage the public to support it. The Michigan Freedom Fund, the group airing the ad, was founded on November 5th by a campaign operative named Greg McNeilly. He is known locally for his work as GOP gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos’s campaign manager in 2006, and as an employee to a DeVos company. [See the ad here]
In the last few years, conservatives have made significant contributions to political organizations that have pushed the state to the right on core economic issues, and explicitly pushed right to work as a top goal (see the graph above):
• Americans for Prosperity–Michigan, the group founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, has a relatively new chapter in Michigan that has produced pamphlets extolling right-to-work reforms. This week, the group set up a heated tent outside the capital to support Snyder’s law and bused activists to Lansing to counter labor protesters.
• The Mackinac Center is a right-wing think tank in Michigan that issues pro-“right to work” reports, sponsors an anti-labor legal foundation and produces an array of other content, from a Pininterest page to short videos explaining why Michigan should adopt right-to-work. The center has gone on a media tour, touting Snyder’s move this week on CNN, Fox Business and much of the Michigan press. Notably, the group recently started two of its own media outlets, Michigan Capitol Confidential and Watchdog Wire Michigan.