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$1M Appropriation was not on Gov’s RTW Repeal Agenda but Doesn’t Stop Her Plans to Sign

March 21, 2023

Article courtesy MIRS News for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog e-newsletter

Although the governor says she didn’t ask lawmakers to attach a $1 million appropriation to legislation repealing Michigan’s Right to Work laws, she is “going to sign a bill that restores workers’ rights” when it arrives at her desk.

“I have made a promise to restore workers’ rights in Michigan. I fought against the creation of this barrier in the first place… I did not ask the legislature to put that part into the bill, and it certainly was not on my agenda, but I am going to sign a bill that restores workers’ rights,” said Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to the media Monday.

When asked if she would scratch the appropriation out of the bill through a line-item veto, Whitmer said “I don’t believe that that’s something available on a bill like that.”

The answer is significant considering the governor’s opposition during the campaign and early in her administration to signing policy bills containing an appropriation. Bills that spend money are not subject to a public referendum, according to the Constitution. In Executive Directive 2019-7, Whitmer wrote, “I intend to veto legislation that circumvents the right to a referendum.”

The prior Republican leadership team snuck marginal spending provisions into controversial policy changes like Right to Work as a way to prevent them from being overturned at the ballot box. However, the business community in West Michigan is looking at using a constitutional amendment to permanently enshrine the policy into the Constitution anyway.

On Mar. 8, Democratic representatives in the state House approved HB 4004 and HB 4005, bills to repeal Right to Work in both the private and public sector, on party-line votes of 56-53.

Michigan’s Right to Work policy reached its 10-year anniversary this past December. The two bills outlawing bargaining unions from directing employees to pay union dues or membership fees as part of their labor contracts were submitted by the past Republican-led legislature and signed into law by previous Gov. Rick Snyder on the same day.

Democrats’ legislation would eliminate the opt-out option for employees who still have access to benefits while not paying dues in both private and public union-represented jobs.

However, due to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees made in June 2018, revoking Right to Work would functionally apply exclusively to Michigan private sector workers.

The U.S. Supreme Court specifically deemed 5-4 that requiring public employees – covered by collective bargaining agreements – to pay union fees was a violation of their First Amendment freedoms. However, some Democrats in Michigan hope HB 4004 and HB 4005 could come into full fruition if the U.S. Supreme Court reconsiders the issue in the future.

Both Whitmer and Rep. Samantha Steckloff (D-Farmington Hills) spoke to the media Monday at Wayne State University (WSU), during a celebratory press conference highlighting the university’s launch of a free tuition scholarship program for incoming students from the state whose family incomes are $70,000 annually or less.

WSU officials view the program as being linked with the Michigan Achievement Scholarship program created during Fall 2022 by Whitmer and legislators, offering up to $5,500 annually for up to five years for students attending a public university in the state and who expect to receive a family contribution of $25,000 or less.

Steckloff did not shy away from answering questions about the $1 million appropriation connected with the Right to Work repeal bills Monday, which are also expected to make major state headlines this week.

“I think it’s because back in 2012 it was rammed through and it didn’t provide any opportunity because they put the (appropriation) on it,” Steckloff said when asked why Democratic lawmakers thought the money item was important. “Honestly, we were just doing the same thing they did.”

She said Democrats in Lansing are using the exact same language from more than 10 years ago, “and we didn’t lock out people from the Capitol and we actually had hearings.”

The $1 million would go to the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity for educating stakeholders on how the legislation will be implemented and what to expect.

“Legally, you’re not forced to join. Yes, you do have to pay those dues for representation…but the argument got so misconstrued and I feel like the argument from the other side is not telling the truth, or the full truth,” Steckloff said, explaining she does know the $1 million is for educational purposes.

Steckloff was working at WSU as an enrollment management coordinator when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She said it was nearly impossible to get through her breast cancer experience while trying to work a full-time job “because I was no longer in a union because I went into management.”

“So many things add up that we don’t think about. I’ve been wanting to repeal Right to Work since day one. This was actually the reason I pulled petitions to run for office in 2013,” she said, referencing her successful 2013 campaign for Farmington Hills City Council. “For me, Right to Work was one of the worst things we could have ever done. What it does, is it totally disinvests financially in unions, and it only hurts what they can do for protections of workers.”

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