LANSING, Mich. — A top Michigan Democrat is looking to President Obama to deliver retribution to Republicans after the GOP-dominated state legislature approved a package of bills that could make this stronghold of union power the nation’s 24th right-to-work state as early as next week.
Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who on Thursday called the votes to approve the right-to-work measure “petty and vindictive politics,” sparked more backlash Friday when she said she wants the president, who is set to visit Detroit on a previously scheduled political trip on Monday, to push back on Republican Gov. Rick Snyder by holding back federal money for a new international bridge project to Canada and a badly needed mass-transit program in ailing Detroit.
“We are hoping that when President Obama comes to Michigan next week, that this is going to be on his radar screen, that he’s going to say Michigan doesn’t care about their middle class, [so] why should we be bending over backwards to make sure that this governor is able to deliver on his promise,” said Mrs. Whitmer in an interview with local radio station WWJ.
Her remarks, amid calls from other Democrats and union leaders to use all legal means necessary to stop the bills from becoming law, drew a stern rebuke from WJR host Frank Beckmann, in Detroit, who wondered on his program Friday if Mrs. Whitmer, considered a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2014, might want to reconsider her words.
“This should immediately disqualify her for any consideration to run for governor,” Mr. Beckmann said. “Taking the interests of the entire state of Michigan, the entire region of Detroit, holding them hostage because you object to legislation that has passed in 23 other states and has caused great economic growth?… That’s outrageous.”
Emotions in Lansing were still running high Friday, a day after the expedited debate and votes sparked angry protests and confrontations on the steps of the state Capitol building. Police arrested a handful of demonstrators inside the building and used pepper spray on protesters who tried to break into the Senate chamber during the debate. State and national labor leaders angrily condemned the move, which carries tremendous symbolic impact in a state with a long history of union activism.
How the Obama administration might respond to the law in Michigan, if at all, remains unclear. The White House, in a statement Thursday, came out strongly against the Michigan legislation but did not discuss any concrete moves it was ready to take.
“President Obama has long opposed so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws and he continues to oppose them now,” said Matt Lehrich, a White House spokesman. “The president believes our economy is stronger when workers get good wages and good benefits, and he opposes attempts to roll back their rights.”
The Michigan state House of Representatives, after a brief Democratic walkout, approved its version of the right-to-work measure Thursday, which labor leaders say undercuts their bargaining power by making it illegal to require financial support of a union as a condition of employment. The state Senate approved two separate bills for private and public sector employees, and the bills must be reconciled and passed before Gov. Snyder can act.
The governor and GOP backers of the bill say the bill will give workers a choice about whether to support a union, and will help the state’s competitive position after neighboring Indiana adopted a similar measure ten months ago.
The Senate and House bills are expected to move forward next week and the governor has said he has will sign the measures, even as Democrats pledge to use every option to stop it, including a lawsuit.
When lawmakers return to the statehouse Monday, a contingent of union workers is again expected to square off against a coalition of right-to-work supporters of the bills. Americans for Prosperity-Michigan plans to sponsor its third “Workplace Freedom Lobby” day on Tuesday in Lansing in anticipation of the signing of the law.
In the meantime, yet another Michigan famous son weighed in Friday. Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, a native of Flint, home to a massive General Motors Co. factory, said on Twitter that he would not obey follow any future right-to-work law while shooting in the state, tweeting, “Revolt, anyone?”
“If you write, direct, edit, shoot or do sound for me on my next movie, you will not work for me unless you belong to the union,” Mr. Moore insisted on Friday.
Mr. Moore tweeted that “Repubs” had “gerrymandered our state like political serial killers. Their goal was 2 snuff out the will of the people. Did the Dems sue 2 stop it?”
Mr. Snyder, a businessman in his first term in Lansing, had originally shied away from the right-to-work effort. But he made clear he is now supports the idea.
“This topic has been out there for a significant amount of time,” Mr. Snyder told reporters. “I think it’s a well understood issue” and “when it arrives on my desk, I plan on signing it.”
• Andrea Billups can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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