Michigan Gov. Whitmer Signs Bill to Repeal State’s ‘Right-to-Work’ Law

Caden Pearson
By Caden Pearson
March 25, 2023Politics
Michigan Gov. Whitmer Signs Bill to Repeal State’s ‘Right-to-Work’ Law
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the media after signing the final piece of a $76 billion state budget into law in Detroit on July 20, 2022. (Carlos Osorio/AP Photo)

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a package of bills on Friday that repeal a 2012 “right-to-work” law that made paying dues to unions optional at unionized workplaces.

The new package of measures mean workers employed at unionized workplaces can no longer opt out of paying union dues and fees. The 2012 “right-to-work” law, which had been passed by a Republican-led Legislature, had given both public and private unions the freedom to organize and bargain collectively but banned them from mandating nonunion workers pay fees as a condition of employment.

The passage of House Bills 4004 and 4007 and Senate Bill 34 is seen as a win for unions and has been touted as restoring provisions that allow workers to collectively bargain for better working conditions, higher wages, and safer workplaces without interference from the government.

“These bills will protect health and safety, ensuring health care 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,” Whitmer said in a statement after signing the bills.

Whitmer also signed legislation that restores a prevailing wage law that had been repealed by Republicans in 2018, which requires contractors hired for state projects to pay union-level wages.

Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II said the measures would guarantee safety, respect, health care, and the ability to retire and provide support for workers’ families. He also touted the law as expanding the middle class and contributing growth to the state’s economy.

The bill (pdf) narrowly passed along party lines in a 20–17 vote.

The new laws will permit employers and a representative for bargaining to agree on a collective bargaining agreement that obligates all public employees in the bargaining unit to contribute equally to the financial support of the representative as a condition for obtaining or retaining employment.

The bills specify that an agreement that mandates public employees in the bargaining unit to pay membership dues or service fees to the bargaining representative as a requirement for continued employment cannot be prohibited or limited by local government law or policy.

Currently, 26 states have right-to-work laws in place to protect the rights of nonunion employees, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Republicans Respond

Republicans have said the repeal will lead to Michigan becoming less attractive to businesses and will lead to forced union membership.

In a statement following Whitmer’s signing of the bill, Michigan House Republican leader Matt Hall said that “businesses will find more competitive states for their manufacturing plants and research and development facilities.”

According to Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan and former lieutenant governor when the law was passed in 2012, the repeal of the “right-to-work” law takes away workers’ ability to make their own choice regarding union membership.

Meanwhile, Democrats see the bill as signaling that “once again,” Michigan will be “known as a place where workers want to come,” which Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks said prior to the vote.

In what appears to be a backtrack on the governor’s 2019 promise during her State of the State speech to veto any bills “designed to cut out the public’s right of referendum,” the package of measures includes $1 million in appropriations.

Republicans have said this provision exists in the bill to ensure it is “referendum-proof,” as the Michigan Constitution states that bills with appropriations attached to them are not subject to a public referendum in which voters could reject the law.


Prior to the bill’s passage in the state Legislature, Democrats supported it as a necessary step to prevent individuals from benefiting from union collective bargaining efforts, such as receiving health care and other benefits, without having to contribute financially through fees, which they viewed as “freeloading off of a system.”

Democrat state Sen. Darrin Camilleri, who introduced the bill, said the previous law had made it systematically more difficult for unions to do their jobs.

“It created an environment where unions were put at a disadvantage when it came to negotiating for better pay and benefits for workers across the board,” Camilleri said on the Senate floor.

However, Republican legislators warned before the passage of the bills that they could result in a decrease in Michigan’s economic competitiveness and employment opportunities.

From The Epoch Times