Right to Work Repeal Passes in Michigan Legislature – Goes to Governor for Signature
March 20, 2023
By Michael Burns, courtesy of SBAM-approved partner, ASE
Michigan’s Legislature moved quickly to repeal Michigan’s 10-year-old Right to Work law. Right to Work allows private sector union members to opt out of union dues payment should they disagree with the services rendered, the political position their union takes, or any other reason the union member may have for deciding the union has not earned their support. Right to Work gives thousands of Michigan union workers leverage to hold their unions accountable.
On Wednesday last week the Democratic majority in the Michigan House Labor Committee quickly voted to submit the bill to repeal Right to Work to the full House for a vote. Within hours and without debate the Democratic majority passed the repeal bill (HB 4005) 56 to 53. Tuesday night, Democrats with a small majority in the Michigan Senate voted (SB 34) 20-17 to pass the repeal of Right to Work. It will now go to the Governor to sign.
The Governor supports the repeal of Right to Work, however the bill to repeal contains an appropriations clause. The purpose of including appropriations in this bill is to prevent a referendum that could re-instate Right to Work from being put on the next ballot. Previously Governor Whitmer stated she would not sign any law that used this tactic to prevent a popular vote on an issue. She said at the time such a move is undemocratic. Over a decade ago the GOP led Michigan Legislature used this tactic.
Gongwer reports Governor Whitmer stated Monday that she will sign the bill. “I have made a promise to restore workers’ rights in Michigan,” stated Governor Whitmer, appeasing Big Labor.
The House also passed a bill to repeal Right to Work in the public sector, but a U.S. Supreme Court decision (Janus v. AFSCME, 2018) will continue to protect public employees’ Right to Work.
The House also voted last week to re-institute prevailing wage in Michigan. Prevailing wage requirements were repealed in 2018 by the then Republican led legislature and signed off by GOP Governor Snyder. The prevailing wage law requires union scale wages be paid to workers on public construction projects. With re-establishment of the prevailing wage in Michigan, the cost of public construction projects using Michigan tax dollars is expected to go up. As of the time of this article, the prevailing wage law was still pending in the Senate.
Supporters of Right to Work point out that 28 states have Right to Work in effect. There is one less Right to Work state today. States that have Right to Work have seen faster income growth, state population growth, and with that, faster workforce growth.
Union membership in Michigan has continued to decline from 16.6% in 2012 to 14% in 2022. Across the country private sector union membership is just over 6% with total U.S. union membership pegged around 10.1% according to Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
Michigan Capital Confidential reports that since Right to Work was passed in 2013 at least 140,000 workers disassociated from their union. If you figure that a typical union member’s dues equates to two hours of pay per month, each month, one can figure how much Right to Work has saved Michigan workers and cost Michigan unions in lost dues.
Not to be deterred, last week pro-business groups immediately started a movement to put a Right to Work ballot proposal to amend the state constitution for the next election. This would require obtaining 446,198 signatures to put the amendment up for a vote in 2024. As mentioned above, this repeal bill, if passed with appropriations, would circumvent a ballot referendum. Why might they have included this block in the bill? Because over ten years ago voters turned down a ballot initiative that would have enshrined unionization in the state Constitution. What happened then?
A bit ironically, a ballot referendum is how Right to Work got started in Michigan. A pro-union ballot proposal was put to the vote to enshrine collective bargaining and union organization rights into the Michigan Constitution in 2012. That initiative was defeated by Michigan voters back then, but the GOP then passed Right to Work during a lame-duck session and then Governor Snyder signed it into law. Now ten years later the Democratic majority in our Legislature and Governorship will repeal the law.
Reports are that some of the same backers of this ballot initiative are those that worked to beat the pro-union ballot initiative back in 2012. So even if our current state legislature and governor repeal the Right to Work law in Michigan, one way or another this will continue to be an issue in Michigan.
ASE supports the Right to Work in Michigan. We encourage our members to contact their legislators and the governor telling them to leave Right to Work alone. Let workers decide whether they wish to support a union. They should not have to choose between paying union dues or keeping their job.
Sources: House Passes Right To Work Repeal, Restores Prevailing Wage GONGWER (3/8/2023), Michigan Right-to-Work Backers Plot Ballot Proposal as Dems Pursue Repeal Bridge Michigan (3/9/2023), What is Right-to-Work: How Law Impacted Wages, Jobs, Unions Bridge Michigan (3/9/2023), Michigan Can Have Workers’ Rights or Mandatory Union Dues, But Not Both Michigan Capital Confidential (3/11/23), Whitmer Says She’ll Sign Referendum-Proof RTW Repeal GONGWER (3/14/2023), Senate Passes Right to Work Repeal, Prevailing Wage Reinstatement GONGWER (3/14/2023)