Farmington Hills lawyer to help businesses, unions navigate right-to-work laws
Story originally appeared on Freep.
LANSING -- As the state implements Michigan's controversial right-to-work laws, Travis Calderwood is the man tasked with communicating how the new policies will affect business owners, labor leaders and workers statewide.
Calderwood, 34, of Farmington Hills was hired in February to fill an opening that the state advertised as a "freedom to work" specialist, a term used by proponents of the laws, which ban mandatory union dues as a condition of employment.
But when it comes to Calderwood's specific job, the description belies the true purpose of his role in state government, he said.
Calderwood said he doesn't advocate for one side or the other in the divisive debate.
"I'm advocating for people to follow the law," Calderwood said. "Regardless of what the law is, I've made many an oath to uphold it."
Since starting his job seven weeks ago, Calderwood said he has fielded inquiries from a variety of people who will be directly affected by the right-to-work laws.
Business owners, union leaders and workers want know how the laws affect their individual circumstances. Detailed explanations often are required.
The right-to-work laws affect labor contracts put into place on or after March 28, so most workers or businesses won't see the impact for several years.
"My role is to provide education and information to make sure there's no misconception about the laws," he said.
Calderwood said he also has had to debunk concerns that right-to-work could affect other labor laws, such as collective bargaining or exclusivity in union representation.
In December, when the Legislature passed right-to-work amid massive protests at the Capitol that drew national attention, Calderwood was practicing law for Collins & Blaha in Farmington Hills.
His work there included representing local school districts on labor issues, he said.
As everything unfolded in Lansing, Calderwood said he was watching with a keen interest in how the actions by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder would affect his clients.
"This is a very critical point in Michigan," Calderwood said. "I wanted to make sure that I could be part of it and bring that fairness and equity to it."
He said he was fully aware that the position would be under public scrutiny.
"The role of the Bureau of (Employment) Relations is, we're a neutral administrative body. We're not here to pick sides," he said.
Calderwood will make $92,000 a year for the position in the bureau, which is based in Detroit's Cadillac Place.
Director Ruthanne Okun said Calderwood was selected out of 50 applicants.
She said his "wonderful background, good demeanor" and understanding of what the job required made him stand out.
"He was the best candidate to fairly implement this law," Okun said.
Calderwood, a Michigan native, received his bachelor's degree from Hillsdale College and his law degree from the Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor.
During law school, Calderwood had an internship as a clerk in the Michigan Court of Appeals, serving under Brian Zahra, who now is a Michigan Supreme Court justice.
When lawmakers passed the right-to-work laws, they also appropriated $2 million to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to help implement them. All of that money was funneled to the Bureau of Employment Relations.
It will help pay for Calderwood's salary through September as well as mailings, informational posters and any travel that Calderwood needs to do for his job, Okun said.
The funding for implementing right-to-work has been one of the sticking points in the political battle over the laws.
Republicans said the appropriations were necessary and routine, but Democrats and other critics alleged the funding was included in the laws just to circumvent one way opponents could seek to overturn them.
Under the Michigan Constitution, legislation that includes an appropriation cannot be subject to repeal through a public referendum.