Michigan Enacts Right to Work Laws: Unions Not Thrilled


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Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed right-to-work legislation into law. Image by MajorGuy2012

Opponents: Right to Work Laws Weaken Unions, Lead to Lower Wages

Opponents argue that as union fees and dues are no longer compulsory, the unions will become weaker financially and this will lead to having less ability not only to bargain but to support political candidates and causes they believe are in the best interests of their members.

Financially weakened unions will ultimately result in lower wages for unionized workers that in turn will lead to lower wages for employees who do not believe in unions.

Union members and their supporters see right to work laws as a direct attack on unions and the gains they have made throughout the years.

Stopping ‘Right to Work’ Legislation: What Remedies Do Unions and Their Supporters Have?

The right to work laws have an appropriation attached to them. Under Michigan law, legislation that contains appropriations cannot be overturned or repealed by citizens’ initiatives, so petitions and ballot measures can’t overturn these laws.

Unions and others who opposed the laws can sue – commencing legal action against the state to question the appropriateness of the attached appropriations. It has also been suggested that HB 4003 can be attacked because the exemption for police officers and firefighters violates the Equal Protection Clause. Lawsuits can always be brought and grounds found to argue.

Those opposed to the right to work laws can also move to have the Republican legislators who voted for it and the Governor recalled from office. Although the recall of senators can be commenced immediately, representatives cannot be recalled until July 1, after they have served six months of their two year terms.

Opponents can also take steps to put a constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot that would make right to work laws unconstitutional in Michigan.

Next Steps for Union Supporters

The right-to-work legislation is passed, but what action can opponents take immediately? Work to ensure more Democrats and Union-friendly politicians are elected during the next statewide elections. A Democrat majority in both the House and the Senate would likely lead to the repeal of the two bills. Of course right-to-work supporters will be working to ensure that the Michigan government remains in the hands of Republicans.

HB 4003 and SB 116 become law 90 days after the legislature recesses, and the bills are expected to become effective sometime in April. Only contracts and collective agreements entered into after that date will be affected by the new laws.


State of Michigan. Enrolled House Bill No. 4003. (2012). Accessed December 13, 2012.

State of Michigan. Enrolled House Bill No. 116. (2012). Accessed December 13, 2012.

Government of Michigan Press Release. New laws help create more, better jobs by allowing choice on union membership(2012). Accessed December 13, 2012.

USA Today. Right-to-work is the law in Mich., but it’s not over. (2012). Accessed December 13, 2012.

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