Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signs labor bill package, repealing Michigan’s right-to-work law

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed three labor policy bills on March 24, including a bill repealing the state’s 2012 right-to-work law. Votes for all three Democratic-sponsored bills were along party lines.  

Right-to-work is a term used to describe state laws prohibiting an employer from entering into a collective bargaining agreement that requires employees to financially support a labor union as a condition of employment. Opponents of such laws sometimes use the phrases “right to work for less” or “right to freeload” (because collective bargaining agreements still cover, and unions are required to represent, employees who choose not to pay dues).

Excluding Michigan, 26 states currently have right-to-work laws, either enacted by constitutional amendment or by statute.

Senate Bill 34 replaces sections of Michigan law related to private-sector employment that Republican lawmakers passed in 2012, including a prohibition on workers being required as a condition of employment to “[p]ay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount or provide anything of value to a labor organization.” Instead, SB 34 says, “An employer and a labor organization may enter into a collective bargaining agreement that requires all employees in the bargaining unit to share fairly in the financial support of the labor organization. This act does not, and a law or policy of a local government must not, prohibit or limit an agreement that requires all bargaining unit employees, as a condition of continued employment, to pay to the labor organization membership dues or service fees.” 

The law will take effect 90 days after the legislative session ends.

The last state to repeal a right-to-work law was Indiana in 1965. (Indiana adopted a new right-to-work law in 2012.) In 2018, Missouri voters blocked a right-to-work law by referendum before it went into effect.

House Bill 4004 amends the state’s public-sector employment law in a similar way. The bill says, “A public employer and a bargaining representative may enter into a collective bargaining agreement that requires all public employees in the bargaining unit to share equally in the financial support of the bargaining representative.” 

In its 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, the U.S. Supreme Court held that public-sector unions cannot require non-member employees to pay fees to support union activities. HB 4004 says that the provision allowing non-member employees to be required to pay union fees would go into effect if Janus were reversed or limited, or if a relevant constitutional amendment were ratified. According to The Detroit News’ Beth LeBlanc, “Sponsors of the bills said the inclusion of public sector unions is an acknowledgment of the Democratic majority’s commitment to all workers as well as a placeholder if the Janus decision should be overturned in the future.” 

The third bill, House Bill 4007, requires state construction contracts to pay workers “not less than the wage and fringe benefit rates prevailing in the locality” for similar projects under collective bargaining agreements. Republican lawmakers repealed a prevailing wage requirement in 2018. 

Whitmer said, “Today, we are coming together to restore workers’ rights, protect Michiganders on the job, and grow Michigan’s middle class. … These bills will protect health and safety, ensuring healthcare workers can put patient care ahead of profit, construction workers can speak up when there’s a safety issue, and employees can call attention to food safety threats and other problems.”

Mackinac Center for Public Policy President Joseph G. Lehman said the repeal of Michigan’s right-to-work law “weakens Michigan’s ability to compete globally and signals to the world that there are better places than Michigan to live, work, invest, and create jobs.” The Mackinac Center, a Michigan-based nonprofit, says it “advances the principles of free markets and limited government.”  

The Democratic Party gained a trifecta in Michigan as a result of the 2022 elections. Democrats hold a 56-54 majority in the House and a 20-18 majority in the Senate.