Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder not too upset by violent union protests

Patrick Howley | Political Reporter

In an exclusive phone interview with The Daily Caller on Tuesday, Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder confirmed he will sign his state’s right-to-work bill as soon as it crosses his desk, and emphasized that he’s not too bothered by the violent union protests against the legislation.

“It’s been a busy day here,” Snyder laughed, sounding calm amid union-backed demonstrations outside the Michigan State Capitol Building in Lansing.

“My intention is to sign the bill when it gets to my desk, either today or tomorrow, and then we can move forward and talk about the bill covering private-sector workers,” Snyder said.

Snyder downplayed unions’ aggressive protests against the bill. (RELATED: Michigan union protesters use knives to destroy conservatives’ inhabited tent)

“It’s part of democracy. Most people have been pretty civil. We’ve had a couple small unfortunate incidents, but ultimately what we’re seeing is a lot smaller than what happened in either Wisconsin or Ohio,” Snyder said.

However, the governor clarified that some rhetoric directed at the bill has been regrettable.

“I just view that as unfortunate. It’s unfortunate because if you look at the history of the labor movement, if you go back to the last century, unions did a lot of good things. People flocked to unions. If you go back to the ’20s, the ’30s, that was certainly the case in Michigan,” Snyder said. “Now they just need to show their value.”

The right-to-work bill, which passed the Michigan House of Representatives on Tuesday, would free non-union workers from requirements to pay union dues.

Snyder said he would not consider abolishing collective bargaining rights and bristled slightly at comparisons to the organized-labor controversy earlier this year in Wisconsin, which he called a “different situation.”

“This legislation forces unions to make better services,” he said. “People shouldn’t have to pay for a service if they don’t want to. So, this bill, I feel, makes unions better. If unions are not going to make their services better, then they need to know there’s going to be consequences.”

Snyder expressed confusion with some of the comments President Barack Obama made Monday when he criticized the bill in a speech at an auto plant in Redford, Mich.

“I view that as not surprising. He’s coming to town, it’s a talked-about issue. He made his comments. We have a different philosophy,” Snyder said. “But if you actually look at his statements, he talked about collective bargaining rights. If you look at the bill, you know it has nothing to do with collective bargaining.”

Snyder also said he does not blame organized labor for the bankruptcy of Detroit automakers, which led to Obama’s 2009 auto bailout.

“The auto bailout was a unique situation. There were other ways to do it, I think. There could have been a number of ways to do it. We should not ever be bailing out specific companies. But GM and Chrysler are both good strong companies. It’s done, and I just move forward from that at this point,” Snyder said.

Snyder also criticized remarks by Democratic Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who suggested last week that Obama should withhold federal funds for state infrastructure projects in order to pressure Snyder to veto the bill.

“Sen. Whitmer’s comments I don’t think are appropriate. We have a different opinion on the issue, sure, so why would you want to hurt the transit system? My customers are the people, organizations, and infrastructure of this state. My focus is on providing good customer service. I don’t see any value in hurting the public sector or any of our customers because of a disagreement,” Snyder said.

Snyder also said he strongly disagrees with the decision of a Wisconsin school board to suspend school for the day to allow teachers to protest the bill.

“I think that’s really unfortunate. Too much of our ed system has been about the adults, and not the kids. The focus needs to be on the children. Clearly leaving the classroom does not reflect a large focus on our children.”

Snyder has been viewed as a solid fiscal conservative since taking office in 2011, when he immediately cut $1.8 billion in spending from the state budget. But he said he makes all of his decisions, including on the right-to-work bill, on a case-by-case basis, with no ideology involved.

“I don’t get bogged down in labels. We cut spending in the budget because that’s what it took to balance the budget. We’ve done a lot of good things. We balanced our budget structurally here. We did tax reform and reduced taxes. Now we’re working on regulatory reform. I think what we did last year created a much more level and competitive playing level,” Snyder said.

Snyder said he is not interested in being a national spokesman on the right-to-work issue, and is not thinking about his political reputation on a national level.

“I stay focused on being the best governor of Michigan I can. I encourage people to look at freedom-to-choose. I think it helps workers,” Snyder said.

Snyder’s approval ratings make him one of the most popular Republican blue-state governors in the country.

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