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UAW stunned by Michigan right-to-work bills

By: David Barkholz

December 10, 2012

DETROIT (Dec. 10, 11:15 a.m. ET) — United Auto Works President Bob King got an early lump of coal in his Christmas stocking from Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder last week when Snyder agreed to support right-to-work legislation.

The governor’s about-face on the issue — he had earlier pledged to steer away from that fight — will damage the UAW inside and outside Michigan, said Dave Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Under right-to-work legislation, employees cannot be required to join a union or pay union dues. Cole said UAW dues at the Detroit 3 are equivalent to two hours of wages per month, or about $600 per member per year.

Twenty-three states, mostly in the South, have right-to-work laws.

Cole said the UAW will lose credibility with auto workers it is trying to organize in the South.

Moreover, many of the nearly 120,000 hourly auto workers nationally represented by the UAW live and work in Michigan, Cole said. He estimated that up to 40 percent of those Michigan auto workers may choose to leave the union or not join.

“This is really a shot in the gut to the union,” Cole said.

But Art Schwartz, a labor consultant and former General Motors labor negotiator, said that few UAW members at GM plants in right-to-work states opt out of the union. He said the workers appreciate the union’s role in negotiating good pay and benefits.

The UAW did not return phone and e-mail messages Friday.

The Michigan Senate and House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, have passed right-to-work bills. Snyder said he would sign the legislation if it hits his desk before year end. It could become effective as early as March.

Detroit labor attorney Adam Forman said the one consolation for the UAW is that Michigan’s constitution prohibits a statute from abrogating an existing labor contract. So Detroit 3 hourly workers can’t opt out of the union until the UAW’s contracts with the automakers expire in 2015.

That will give Michigan union leaders time to elect new legislators and maybe a new governor willing to roll back right to work, said Forman, a principal at Miller Canfield. The UAW also is expected to mount a legal challenge to the legislation.