But Michigan lawmakers say unions have no one but themselves to blame. The unions' decision to push for a November referendum to amend the state constitution to protect collective bargaining rights had infuriated the Republicans. When the referendum lost badly, the GOP interpreted that as a green light to rush through the legislature two right-to-work bills – one aimed at public-sector unions and the second at private. The package, which does not apply to police or firefighter unions, was introduced last Thursday, and by Friday both the state House and Senate had voted in favor. A final vote took place Tuesday, and Governor Snyder then signed the package.
“When the unions made the effort to push through the referendum and lost resoundingly, that changed the game,” says Marick Masters, a political scientist and labor management relations expert at Wayne State University in Detroit. “That amendment angered the conservative base of the Republican Party to no end, and so they decided to pursue right-to-work aggressively.”
Snyder told MSNBC Tuesday the unions were warned to expect a reprisal if they proceeded with the referendum on the constitutional amendment.
“I asked them not to go forward. And the reason I said is, ‘You’re going to start a very divisive discussion. It’ll be about collective bargaining first, but it’ll create a big stir about right-to-work in addition to collective bargaining.’ ”
The experience of neighboring Indiana, where a right-to-work measure was approved in February, also emboldened Michigan lawmakers. Many said they believed that businesses would migrate from Michigan to Indiana as a result, hurting an already-struggling Michigan economy.