February 2013
January 31, 2013

Union attacks show need for vigilance

Author: Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT United
union protesters

Less than 40 days after labor played a vital role in securing the key battleground state Michigan for President Barack Obama in his race against Republican challenger and native son Mitt Romney, state lawmakers in this union stronghold passed legislation aimed at essentially busting Michigan's labor movement.

Passage of Michigan's right-to-work legislation was correctly described by the president as the "right to work for less" bill.

That unions were once again under siege was perhaps no great surprise. In the wake of attempts in Wisconsin and Ohio to repeal collective bargaining rights, and passage of a right-to-work bill in Indiana, labor has been waging in recent years a continual and relentless battle to protect workers' rights.

But this last attack happened in Michigan, the very birthplace of the United Auto Workers and heart of the nation's automobile industry.

If it could happen here, pundits predicted it could happen anywhere — even in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been viewed by some observers as a union adversary, pushing controversial bills on everything from tax caps to pensions, and whose austere budgets have resulted in the loss of thousands of public sector jobs.

"I was surprised more on a political level than anything else," said Cuomo the day after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the right-to-work bill into law.

Making his comments on Albany's Talk 1300 AM's "Live from the State Capitol" radio show, Cuomo said the "labor movement is a source of progressive reform. It builds the middle class. It protects workers. I understand the downside to paying dues, but I think it's overwhelmed by the upside."

When asked by host Fred Dicker if he would ever support right-to-work legislation in New York, Cuomo said simply, "Nope."

Cuomo's comments coincide with what many observers, in the wake of the governor's State of the State address, have characterized as a shift to a more "progressive agenda."

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi said the governor's comments on the labor movement and opposition to a right-to-work law in New York are welcome, yet the work that lies ahead for the state's labor movement is significant.

"It is reassuring to hear the governor say in no uncertain terms that he would oppose right-to-work legislation in New York," Iannuzzi said.

"As unionists we must remain vigilant — not only to protect our professions and our livelihoods, but to protect the rights of every worker to access the union movement as the path to security and the middle class.

"Unions must remain strong," Iannuzzi stressed, "in order to continue to be the voice of equity and fairness for all who seek the American Dream."

Labor leaders in Michigan are hoping to collect enough signatures so voters can have their say on the legislation.

And nationally, unions are gearing up to target and unseat governors who, like Snyder, are viewed as anti-union.