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Michigan Republicans consider "right-to-work" legislation

by

By David Bailey

(Reuters) - Michigan's Republican-led legislature is considering a push for a "right-to-work" law that would make paying union dues optional in a state that has one of the highest union membership rates in the United States and is home to the United Auto Workers.

Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who had said in the past that a "right-to-work" law was not appropriate for Michigan, said on Tuesday the issue was now under discussion, though he did not say if or when a proposal would be introduced.

"We want to have a thoughtful discussion so there will be ongoing dialogues, say, tomorrow and the next day and we will make a conclusion when appropriate," Snyder told reporters after meeting on Tuesday with Republican state House and Senate leaders.

No action was taken on a proposal on Wednesday.

Michigan would be the second state in the nation's industrial heartland to adopt such a law after Indiana this year became the 23rd state with such laws.

"Right-to-work" laws typically allow workers to opt out of paying union dues, forbidding requirements that a person must join a union to work in a certain shop.

Supporters say the laws help attract or retain businesses, while opponents say they suppress wages and benefits for workers, and undermine the financial stability of unions.

Republicans control Michigan's legislature and governor's office. Voters in November rejected a measure to enshrine a right to collective bargaining in the state constitution, leading to renewed calls to take up the right-to-work issue.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce on Monday backed passage of right-to-work legislation, citing in part a survey that found 85 percent support among its members.

When asked whether he thought right-to-work laws were right for the state now, Snyder said on Tuesday, "I am not going to make a conclusion on that. We are having thoughtful discussions."

Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger and other Republican leaders have sought to generate support to pass a right-to-work law during the December lame-duck legislative session.

"Discussions about Freedom to Work legislation are continuing and there is no final agreement or decision on whether to move forward or what that would look like if we do," Ari Adler, Bolger's spokesman, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Metropolitan Affairs Coalition, which includes both business and labor interests, last week urged Michigan not to pursue right-to-work laws.

"We continue to be hopeful that RTW be for discussion ... not legislation," coalition president Paul Tait said in a statement on Wednesday. "This is clearly divisive and counterproductive."

Tait said Michigan's economy is turning around, in part, because of good labor-management relations.

"Anything, including RTW, that would derail that progress makes no sense," Tait said.

About 17.5 percent of Michigan workers were members of unions last year, placing it fifth among states, compared with 11.8 percent of workers nationally, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The potential action in Michigan follows efforts that greatly curbed the bargaining powers of public sector unions in Wisconsin in 2011. Ohio residents turned back efforts to curb public sector union powers in 2011 through a referendum vote.

(Reporting by David Bailey)

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