Local legislators reflect on right-to-work bill

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 1:50 pm on Tuesday, December 18, 2012

SIDNEY — Upon the passing of last week’s Workplace Fairness and Equity Act, more commonly known as right-to-work, Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, and Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, took time to discuss their thoughts on the passing of the bill at Monday’s Legislative Luncheon meeting at Montcalm Community College.

“This was very controversial and there was a lot of demonstration at the Capitol,” Outman said. “It’s something that I’ve thought about for a long time, coming from the educational community.”

Outman said with his brother being a union member at a road commission and many of his other family members within the union of the Michigan Education Association, this was a topic that was very close to him.

Outman began to describe issues his sister had with being in a union, that they “weren’t doing for her what they should be doing,” when he was interrupted by a woman in the audience who walked out of the meeting but not before pointing at Outman and exclaiming, “Crap, all of what you’ve got to say is crap!”

“That’s the controversy, folks,” said Outman in response. “People will line up on different sides of this and I understand. A lot of union people that came down (to Lansing) weren’t mad just to be mad, they are scared for their jobs and benefits. These are very tough calls, but the bottom line of this piece of legislation is that at its very core it says workers have the freedom to join a union or not join a union, not based on condition of employment.”

Outman said he voted for the legislation because it gives people the freedom to choose whether to be in a union.

“Freedom is at the essence of everything we do in this country and we continually lose our freedoms,” he said. “This is a step in the other direction. It doesn’t mean that you can’t join the union, what it means is the union is going to be accountable to you now.”

Emmons said her rational behind supporting the bill was focused on unions not having to be forced to represent those who want to opt out of paying their union dues.

“It’s my understanding that nothing changes as far as the union itself,” she sad. “It would be a members only contract if the union was not going to represent those folks who do not pay their dues. That was my rational, you have members only contracts and then you have those that cover everybody. If you opted out, your union does not have to represent you.”

Outman said he believes the legislation could potentially strengthen unions in Michigan

“Unions now have to come to you and ask you what your concerns and need are, they have to step up their game,” he said. “They now have to be accountable to everyone. This doesn’t prevent anything other than the fact that they can’t force people to be in the union.”

On the subject of why the legislation was rushed through a lame-duck session and did not meet at a committee level, both Emmons and Outman cited safety concerns at the Capitol in trying to pass such a controversial bill.

“Leadership makes a decision and we as members of the governing body end up voting on whatever they put out in front of us,” Emmons said. “I myself prefer to look at the wording and know what I’m looking at before I make a decision. I would hazard a guess, and this is just my opinion, that they decided (to rush the bill), for security and safety because they were concerned about that.”

Outman said despite the bill being rushed through, it was not something that wasn’t given the appropriate amount of thought and decision making.

“Even though it did seem like it was rushed through in a lame-duck session, and it was, this is as volatile of an issue as we’ve taken up and there were a lot of safety concerns,” he said. “This is not something that was dreamed up in the last hour, it has been talked about since I first took office two years ago.”

Emmons also questioned if unions had possibly taken their role to an unnecessary level.

“This is volatile and certainly there are valid points on both sides of the issue,” she said “When you have situations such as the Chrysler workers from a few years ago who were found drinking and using drugs outside of the Chrysler plant and they got their jobs with backpay, that makes me pause and think, have we gone too far? Have we forgotten what the role (of unions) is here?”

Emmons stressed that she believes jobs will return to Michigan in response to the passing of the bill.

“They are anticipating, because there are so many engineering minds still here in Michigan, that the business will come here,” she said.

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