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Michigan repeals ‘Right to Work’ law in major labor victory

The Democrats have taken power in Michigan, and they are using it.

On Friday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed a bill repealing the state’s decade-old “Right to Work” law, delivering a setback for the state’s conservative movement and a historic victory for its unions.

“Today, we come together to restore workers’ rights, protect Michiganders on the job, and grow Michigan’s middle class,” Whitmer said in a statement.

Right to work laws prohibit unions and employers from entering into agreements that require each contracted worker to pay a fee to cover bargaining and representation costs. Unions despise the laws and say they lead to “free-riding,” in which workers choose not to pay union dues but still enjoy the benefits of a union contract.

Republican leaders passed the state’s Right to Work Act a decade ago. But once the Democrats regained control of power after last year’s election, they quickly moved to dismantle it. The State House and Senate recently passed party-line vote repeal bills and sent the legislation to Whitmer’s office.

Unions welcomed the repeal on Friday. Michigan’s AFL-CIO leader Rob Bieber said the state had “restored the balance of power” for workers.

“After decades of attacks on workers, it’s a new day in Michigan, and the future is bright,” Bieber said in a statement.

Right to work laws were made legal by Congress in 1947 and have spread to most states since then, including some with historically strong labor movements, such as Wisconsin. Michigan Republicans, led by the Governor at the time. Rick Snyder (right) passed the Michigan law in 2012, dealing a blow to organized labor in a state that is at the heart of the US auto industry.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the repeal of Michigan’s Right to Work law, showing the new power of Democrats in the state.

Bill Pugliano via Getty Images

The Economic Policy Institute, a left-wing think tank, said the legislation Whitmer signed marks the first repeal of a state right-to-work law in almost 60 years.

With the law now outlawed, state private sector unions can once again negotiate what are known as “union security” clauses. These are requirements that each worker in the bargaining unit pay a fee to cover the costs associated with negotiating and enforcing the contract. (Michigan lawmakers also voted to repeal the Right to Work Act for public sector unions as well, but that move was only symbolic since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled American Public Sector Entire Right to Work in 2018.)

The Right to Work bill wasn’t Whitmer’s only pro-work move on Friday. She also signed another bill that will reinstate the state’s “governing wage” law, which sets minimum wage and benefits requirements for employees working on government projects, such as construction and service workers. Often criticized by conservatives, these laws maintain higher rates of pay on government-funded construction sites and encourage the use of union labour.

Whitmer’s office said reinstating the law would “put more money in people’s pockets” and ensure Michigan has a “well-trained and skilled workforce.”


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