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What Exactly is ‘Right to Work’ and ‘Prevailing Wage?’

The Democrats laid out their first pieces of legislation last week as they took control in Lansing.

The first six bills were introduced Thursday in the Senate and amongst them were repealing Michigan’s ‘Right to Work’ law and restoring ‘Prevailing Wage.’ Those are two buzz terms in the labor sector but may not be known in every household.

“The focus shouldn’t be on politicians, it shouldn’t be on unions, it should be on the workers,” said Jase Bolger, with the West Michigan Policy Forum.

Bolger was the Speaker of the House in 2012 when Michigan became a ‘Right to Work’ state. Before that, if you worked at a union shop you had to join the union.

“You get into a GM plant you join the union and the union is your exclusive bargaining representative with your employer,” said Adrian Hemond, Democratic strategist and founder of Grassroots Midwest.

‘Right to Work’ said workers did not have to join and they would still get protections without paying dues.

“It’s workers’ freedom to choose which organizations they want to join,” said Bolger. “They can’t be mandated to join an organization in order to get a job.”

What some call workers’ rights, others call an anti-union tactic.

“If you don’t support unions, this is an obvious way to weaken the strength of unions,” said Hemond.

“While it’s a threat to some special interests, what it means for workers is that they have a say over their paycheck,” said Bolger.

The other labor related bill was to restore ‘Prevailing Wage,’ mandating public projects must pay the going rate in a community, usually a union rate.

“They charge way more for government than they do if they did it at your house,” said Bolger, “So for taxpayers this is a waste of their dollars.”

“That wage is sort of a floor and the intent there is to prevent public sector entities from simply going with low quality, low cost bids,” said Hemond.

Republicans say it’s a waste of tax dollars, Democrats say it deflates wages through hindering union negotiations.

“There’s a feeling amongst a lot of Democrats, and a lot of the general public in Michigan, that the ability to negotiate effectively with your employer is one of the things that keeps wages up and helps make life more affordable for families,” said Hemond.

The fact they made the first wave of bills of the legislature, means they are ready to take up the fight.

“Unfortunately,” said Bolger. “I think it’s a focus on politics and partisanship.”

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