As hundreds of right-to-work proponents prepare to converge on the state Capitol today, there's talk of a deal under which Republicans would back off the controversial measure in return for cooperation from labor groups and Democrats on other issues, such as a new emergency manager law.
But there is considerable skepticism and mistrust on both sides about the chances of making any such deal work.
Gov. Rick Snyder met late last week with UAW President Bob King and other labor leaders and "is being proactive in encouraging all sides (House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats, and business and labor) to work and talk together," spokeswoman Sara Wurfel confirmed Monday.
Right-to-work legislation makes it illegal to require financial support of a union as a condition of employment, allowing workers to join unions if they wish, but ending the closed union shop.
Anticipation was so high that a right-to-work bill would be introduced Thursday and debated during the Legislature's lame-duck session that there was a stepped-up Michigan State Police presence at the Capitol.
But the level of tension decreased after Snyder -- who has repeatedly said right-to-work is not on his agenda -- met last Thursday with House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, and announced no action would be taken that day.
Wurfel said Snyder is "not involved in specific discussions" -- beyond encouraging cooperation. But two union sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said there are talks about a brokered deal under which right-to-work would not proceed, but GOP leaders would get something in return.
The prospects of such a deal looked dim Monday, particularly after the state's most powerful business lobby, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, ended its neutrality on the issue and urged passage of right-to-work.
"My impression is, there's not a lot of middle ground on this issue," said Chamber President and CEO Rich Studley. "You're either in favor of it or you're not."
State Rep. Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, the incoming House Minority Leader, said that "to my knowledge, there's been no explicit discussions about trading votes for some particular pieces of legislation in lieu of right-to-work."
But, he said, there are a host of government-sponsored lame-duck issues that Democrats are interested in cooperating on -- such as the creation of a Regional Transit Authority and changes to the laws governing Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
There's limited time before the Legislature adjourns for the holidays, and time and energy spent on right-to-work legislation can't be spent on those issues, Greimel said.
"Discussions with the governor, with Speaker Bolger and with Senate Majority Leader Richardville are all ongoing," he said.
The Nov. 6 defeat of the union-backed Proposal 2 -- which would have blocked any state right-to-work law by enshrining collective bargaining rights in the Michigan Constitution -- has amped up the rhetoric and discussions from many Republicans and business owners to make Michigan the 24th state to pass such a law.
Another meeting of GOP leaders is expected today.
Scott Hagerstrom, Michigan state director for Americans for Prosperity, said he expects hundreds of right-to-work supporters from across the state to arrive at the Capitol today to lobby lawmakers on the issue.
Hagerstrom said Snyder's earlier efforts to act as a broker between conservatives and unions, and to keep right-to-work off the table, resulted in Proposal 2 and two other union-backed ballot initiatives.
"It seems like the governor tried that once," he said. "It's very laughable that anyone would go down that road a second time."
Some union members expressed skepticism Monday that Snyder could hold GOP lawmakers to any deal he brokered, citing the recent defeat in a state House committee of a state-run health insurance exchange the governor favored.
Studley said Snyder urged the unions not to proceed with Proposal 2 -- which led to a multimillion-dollar fight between business and labor and the defeat of the proposal by 14 percentage points.
"You can't un-spill milk," Studley said. "Like the governor, this was not on our list of things to do, but now it is."
(c)2012 the Detroit Free Press