Two new right-to-work threats to report: one in Michigan against the non-union, dues-based State Bar of Michigan, and another across the border in Ontario. Michigan attorneys are firing back against the shadowy forces behind RTW. (The Koch brothers should be warned: Don’t piss-off 43,600 lawyers.)
But first, O Canada…
Right-to-work initiatives are metastasizing across the hemisphere. Among the latest is a call for Ontario to become a RTW jurisdiction. Tory Leader Tim Hudak wants to get rid of something called (ironically) the Rand Formula, named after former Canadian Court Justice Ivan Rand. In 1946, he arbitrated a settlement between the United Auto Workers and Ford Motor Company ending a strike at their Windsor plant. The agreement made union dues mandatory — blocking workers from getting a free-ride.
Hudak cites youth unemployment in Ontario as reason for his push — in spite of the fact that RTW does not correlate with higher employment rates. While Ontario does have a substantial youth unemployment problem (worse than in Michigan), it’s for the same reasons we find in the Great Lakes State — loss of the manufacturing base during a global economic downturn. To imply that union dues factor in, even in the tiniest way, is utter nonsense. Under the Snyder administration’s conservative anti-union policies, the state remains the 6th worst state in the nation in terms of unemployment.
Let’s hope our neighbors to the east have the good sense to reject the RTW lie.
Meanwhile, back in Michigan, RTW advocates seem to have kicked the hornet’s nest. There’s a new effort to expand right-to-work to non-union organizations that require dues. Last month, the crowd at the 30th Biennial Republican Leadership Conference was all abuzz about their latest scheme to prohibit the automatic collection of dues in the Michigan Bar Association.
Membership to the bar association is mandatory, and dues are $300 a year. Yet, Greg McNeilly, president of the Michigan Freedom Fund, claims to be deeply concerned about the plight of lawyers in the state. MLive reports he said:
“They shouldn’t be second-class citizens. We need to give them the freedom to practice. Other states do that. They don’t have compulsory, mandatory bars. So why should Michigan? We need to be the freest, best place for anybody to practice any profession.”
Bruce Courtade, former president of the Michigan Bar, replied with this:
“My response was, we’re not a union. We’re not an employer. There are so many reasons for us to remain a compulsory, mandatory bar, including the fact that there is a discipline system set up that the profession itself is regulating. So it would require setting up a new system to do that.
There would be so many initiatives that benefit the justice system that would be compromised if we went to a voluntary bar. I think it would be really unwise.”
The 43,600 members of State Bar of Michigan don’t take kindly to attacks on the integrity of their organization or against their profession as a whole — especially when it comes to dark money spent in judicial campaigns. They recently filed a formal request with Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to require public disclosure of all donors to third-party issue ads in judicial races. Last week, the Michigan Bar was joined by the Brennan Center for Justice and the watchdog organization, Justice at Stake, in demanding accountability in judicial issue ad spending.
It’s no secret that there is much cross-pollination between shadowy third-party donors and right-to-work advocates — a situation that casts a new spin on the right-to-work push on the bar association.
As we previously reported, Michigan judicial races are among the worst in dark money spending. Rich Robinson, of the watchdog group Michigan Campaign Finance Network, reported that in the 2012 election, Michigan judicial races were by and large bought and paid for by shadowy third party issue ads. Robinson found that “Just 25% of $18.6M spent was reported to the State”. That’s $14 million in dark money. The concern is that, not only are these judicial seats for sale, but we don’t know who’s buying them, and therefore won’t be able to detect bias or need for recusal.
The bulk of the money was spent on the Supreme Court contest, but this time around a fight for the 6th Circuit Court became costly when, in addition to the $725,000 reported by the candidates, $2 million was spent by Washington D.C. players.
As reported last year in Democracy Tree, Supreme Court contests produce more issue ads than other political races in Michigan because judicial candidates are bound to an entirely different set of campaign rules which hobble their ability to personally sling the mud, so they count on third parties to do all their dirty work. These races have a history of being a hotbed for outright absurdities and improprieties in campaign issue ads.
While there are many among Michigan’s judiciary that would welcome getting big money out of their races, it seems Chief Supreme Court Justice Robert Young is not among them. Democracy Tree recently reported that Young expressed support for excessive campaign spending in political races.
Secretary of State Johnson, a Republican, has 60 days from the Sept. 11th filing date to respond to the bar’s request, although she may ask for an extension under the law. The bar wants a disclosure rule in place by the 2014 election cycle.
Amy Kerr Hardin