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Anti-union or freedom to choose? Right-to-work debate heats up in Michigan

Democratic State Senate leader responds to governor's argument to sign right-to-work legislation in Michigan


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," December 7, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder going "On the Record," insisting the legislation is not anti-union.


MICH. GOV. RICK SNYDER: It's really about freedom to choose. It's about being pro-worker and stepping up for the workers in our state. We need workplace equality and fairness, and that's what this legislation's all about is giving workers the choice to join a union or not.

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VAN SUSTEREN: But not everyone, of course, agrees with the governor. State senator, Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer joins us. Good evening, Senator.


VAN SUSTEREN: Now, I'm curious -- and tell me if I'm wrong. But this legislation, what it does, it enables workers to opt in or opt out of unions. It's not mandatory employment -- or not mandatory union membership if you're employed, is that correct?

WHITMER: Well, that's what the governor's talking about. But let's look at some of the questions you asked him just last night on your show. If this was such an important piece of policy and they stood by the policy of it, why on earth after two years of saying he wasn't going to do this, would they push this at the 11th hour in a lame duck session, locking -- illegally locking people out of the capitol from having a voice in this process, and even trying to shut down legislators from making the case on the other side.

If they really stood by this policy, shouldn't it be open and have a fair debate, like our founders of our constitution envisioned?

VAN SUSTEREN: I agree. Illegally locked down because they locked the doors to the protesters, and the protesters, unions, went to court. The judge said they'd open the doors. So you win that one. That's without a doubt.

They did wait until the lame duck. I agree they waited to the lame duck. There's no dispute about that.

What I'm curious, though, is the substance of the law. The law, as I understand it, is that it allows a worker to either join the union or not join the union, not be required to join a union, gets a choice. Is that a correct restatement of the law?

WHITMER: Well, that's kind of the crux of it, the overarching, but let's look at the bill a little bit closer. You know, what the Republicans did was they chose winners and losers. They decided to carve out an exception for police and fire, which means they did not give any exception to our nurses and our teachers and our social workers.

I think -- you know, I'm a lawyer like you are, Greta. I think that could be subject to an equal protection challenge. In addition, I'd point out that the groups that they did not exempt are heavy-dominated women fields. I do believe that there is disparate treatment here, and I think that there are going to be a number of challenges.

VAN SUSTEREN: So let me see if I understand this now, is that if you're a police officer or a firefighter, you do not get the right to work protection, meaning that you can't opt out of the union. If you are a nurse, you can opt in or opt out or some of the other -- some of the other occupations, is that correct?

WHITMER: That's what the governor and the Republicans pushed through the legislature yesterday.

VAN SUSTEREN: I take it you would object to giving that same sort of opt in or opt out to firefighters and police, since you're overall opposed to the law, is that correct?

WHITMER: Well, I say, hey, if this was good public policy, let's have the debate. Let's have the back and forth and let's make that determination.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is wrong with giving the worker the option to opt in or out on a union?

WHITMER: Hey, you know what, Greta? We're happy to have that debate. I think we should bring people on both sides of the issue and listen to everyone. I'm willing to listen to everyone. The big question is, why is the governor all of a sudden weighing in at the last minute, not wanting to listen to anybody?

VAN SUSTEREN: So you object...

WHITMER: Trying to cut off even my right to speak on the senate floor.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you object to the process and the manner, not necessarily to the substance of the law. That's something you still want to discuss.

WHITMER: Oh, I am resolutely opposed to this, but I want to listen. I think everyone should have the right to speak. These guys cloak themselves in the flag, and yet they trample on our constitutional rights, and that's wrong.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, if you're resolutely opposed, then explain to me again -- let me go back up for a second because this is what I do not understand, is that -- is that what -- why do you find -- why do object to someone being able to have the option to be in the union or not in the union?

WHITMER: Well, I think that's something that we need to talk about. I object to...

VAN SUSTEREN: But you're resolutely opposed to it, you said. So you must have...


WHITMER: I'm absolutely opposed to them jamming this through in this manner. You know, if they want to have the conversation about who's in and who's out and what the rationale is -- and if there's a public policy reason for that, I'd like to listen and maybe I might change my mind. But at this juncture, with them doing it in this fashion and this over -- this sweeping new law, I'm opposed to it.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you're resolutely opposed to the manner in which it's been done, lame duck and being done at this late hour, but you're not resolutely opposed to the substance of the law. You're willing to listen to it.

WHITMER: I'm willing to listen to all sides on any issue, and that's what our founding facts envisioned when they created the committee process and they created the debate and checks and balances. That's how this process is supposed to work, and so everyone should be offended that every -- that we were all cut out of this.

VAN SUSTEREN: And I say very tongue in cheek you have different procedure than you have in Wisconsin. So I take it we're not going to see the state Democratic senators hitting the road, like they did in Wisconsin.

WHITMER: Unfortunately, we don't have that option of shutting the place down, or I would.


VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I tell you one thing. It was fascinating to watch. Anyway, Senator, thank you for joining us.

WHITMER: Thank you, Greta.