Michigan Enacts Right to Work Laws: Unions Not Thrilled

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Protesting Michigan’s right to work laws after Governor Rick Snyder signed bills into law. Photo Credit: Screen Capture from CBC video

Hours after the two bills passed in the Michigan House of Representatives on December 11, 2012, Governor Rick Snyder signed them into law, making Michigan the 24th state to adopt right to work laws.

Because the state is the birthplace of the United Auto Workers, and home to the big three automakers, the laws attracted more attention than did similar legislation passed in other states.

About 20% of Michigan workers are unionized, higher than the national average of 14%.

Michigan’s Right to Work Laws

The right to work laws are contained in two separate bills. House Bill 4003 defines and sets out the rights of public employees while Senate Bill 116 governs private sector employees. What does ‘right to work’ mean? The gist of these laws is that employees will not be required to join a union or pay union dues in order to work.

Section 10(3) of HB 4003 sets out what employees will not be required to do in order to obtain a job or continue to work in Michigan’s public sector.

  • Individuals are not required to join or remain a member of a labor organization or bargaining unit in order to work in the state.
  • Workers are not required to pay fees, dues or give anything of value in order to work in Michigan’s public service.
  • Employees cannot be required by a labor organization or bargaining unit, to pay or give anything of value to charitable organizations or other third parties in lieu of such fees or dues.

Employees of police and fire departments are exempt from the right to work provisions of the bill.

HB 4003 also restricts the meaning of the term “public employee.” Employees who work for a private organization or for a political subdivision of the state and who work for the state of Michigan on a contract basis are not considered to be public employees. And people who provide services for an employer who receives direct or indirect government subsidies are also defined as not being public employees.

SB 116 grants the same rights to private sector workers. In order to work, employees are no longer required to join a labor organization or bargaining unit and are not required to pay fees or dues in order to work. Violation of these rights can lead to a maximum civil fine of $500. In addition, employees are free to bring a civil action against the organization or bargaining unit for damages, injunctive relief, or both.

Right to Work Laws: Supporters Claim They Will Help Michigan’s Economy

Proponents of the legislation argue the right to work laws allow employers to hire non-union workers as well as unionized ones. This flexibility makes the state more attractive to both new and existing businesses, especially for states like Michigan with higher than average unemployment rates. While Ford, Chrysler and General Motors are all headquartered in Michigan, those in favor of the laws point out that foreign automobile companies that have located in the United States have all set up in states that have right to work laws.

Governor Snyder pointed out that since neighboring Indiana passed similar laws, 220 companies have either started up in the state or expanded. Ninety of these companies said their decisions were based upon Indiana’s right to work laws.

Those in favor of these laws also point out individual employees now have more freedom. They do not have to have their money used for causes, political or otherwise, they do not support or believe in.

And proponents point out, nothing in HB 4003 or SB 116 affects the relationship between the employer and the bargaining unit or labor organization. The only relationship affected is between the union and individual employee. They say collective bargaining will not be affected.

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