On Dec. 6, with no committee hearings and no public comment period, Michigan’s Republican-led legislature rushed through a “right to work” law despite strong protests from the state’s union members. Republicans made the right-to-work measures immune to referendum by attaching a $1 million appropriation. State law forbids repealing spending bills through referendum.
“Right to work” legislation is a deceptive term because it has nothing to do with the demand for jobs. Such laws do not guarantee any rights; in fact, the laws limit rights, making it illegal to bargain union security agreements, a common feature of union contracts.
Michigan voters rejected an amendment to the state’s constitution in November that would have guaranteed organizing and collective bargaining rights for public and private sector employees. The rejection of this law is likely what emboldened the lame duck GOP-led legislature to enact the right to work law. The make up of January’s legislature would not have the votes to enact the anti-worker legislation.
Michigan is the 24th state to enact a right-to-work law. Thousands of union protestors have protested the passage of the bill. The law will ban any automatic payroll deductions of union dues.
"What this is really about is defunding unions," said Steve Cook, president of Michigan Education Association. "They're attacking the collective bargaining process. They want to force unions to basically have to provide services, benefits and the protections to non-members who will not pay a penny for them. It defunds unions. It cripples unions."
Unions are essentially declaring an all-out war on politicians who back right to work—including raising the possibility of recalling them from office.
Among those driving this bill through the Michigan House and Senate were Sen. Arlan Meekhoff, Rep. Tom McMillin, and Rep. Pete Lund, who are members of American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC was the legislative force behind the union busting actions of Scott Walker in Wisconsin.
"They've awakened a sleeping giant," United Auto Workers President Bob King told the Associated Press. "Not just union members. A lot of regular citizens, non-union households, realize this is a negative thing."
Wages are lower in right-to-work states. An average worker in a right-to-work state earns about $7,131 a year less than workers in states where unions are free to bargain over union security. Right-to-work states also have higher poverty rates. According to calculations from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace deaths is 41 percent higher in states with right-to-work laws, a reflection of a union voice that is weaker.
Michigan has been an established powerhouse of union strength for decades, but changes in the auto industry have undermined labor’s power. Concessions by labor have been seen as weakness and have led to more demands for more concessions in that industry.