U-M survey: 47% of Michigan local government leaders support right-to-work law

6:17 AM, Dec 17, 2013   |    comments
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LANSING, Mich. (Detroit Free Press) - Just under half of local government leaders in Michigan support the state's year-old right-to-work law, but they don't approve of an exemption the Legislature gave to police officers and firefighters, according to a University of Michigan survey to be released today.

Of local government leaders surveyed by the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at U-M's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, 47% said they support the right-to-work law, while 22% oppose it.

Only 26% support the law's exemptions for police and firefighters unions, while 33% oppose the exemptions, the survey found.

Opposition to the exemptions is even stronger among local governments that have employee unions. For that group, which makes up about a quarter of all local governments in Michigan, 16% support the exemptions and 53% oppose them, the survey found.

Right-to-work legislation, which was passed last year, makes it illegal to require financial support of a union as a condition of employment.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican leaders said police and fire employees were exempted from the law because they rely on special bonds to perform dangerous work, and the government didn't want to weaken that. Lawmakers also cited the fact that emergency workers are banned from striking, though such a ban also applies to teachers, who are included in right-to-work.

Some political analysts have said they believe the bigger reason for the exemptions was that police and firefighters unions have more public support than other public sector unions, and the government didn't want their opposition to make the difficult task of passing right-to-work even more challenging.

Mark Docherty, president of the Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union, said he's not surprised by the numbers because the people surveyed represent the employer, and it's in the employer's interest to weaken unions.

Despite the opposition to the exemptions, "I just don't think the Legislature will take up that one," Docherty said.

Samantha Harkins, director of state affairs for the Michigan Municipal League, said she was surprised by the numbers because local government leaders haven't expressed widespread opposition to the police and firefighter exemptions in conversations with her.

"Usually our members are pretty vocal with us, and I have not heard complaints," Harkins said.

The exemptions could be unpopular because treating some local government employees differently from others can create workplace tensions, she said.

The Michigan Public Policy Survey sent questionnaires to 1,856 local government units and received a 73% response rate between April 8 and June 9. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points.

By Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau

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