Michigan is no longer a ‘right-to-work’ state

Dive Brief:

  • Michigan’s repeal of its “right-to-work” law took effect Tuesday, making it the first such reversal since states began passing the laws in 1944.
  • Michigan Republicans passed a “right-to-work” law in 2012, and it went into effect in 2013. Last March, the state’s Democratically-controlled legislature rescinded the law.
  • According to the right-leaning National Right to Work Committee, 26 states across the U.S. currently have “right-to-work” laws, with Michigan being among the most recent to pass one.

Dive Insight:

“Right-to-work” laws prohibit “union security” agreements, which require employees to pay union dues as a condition of employment in a unionized workplace.

Union members pay dues, can vote in leadership elections and are represented by the union in contract negotiations and workplace disputes — however, unions can represent and gain benefits for workers who are not part of the union, the National Conference of State Legislatures noted. Because such negotiations can be expensive, states without “right-to-work” laws allow unions to charge nonmembers a fee to recoup these costs.

Supporters of “right-to-work” laws say that without them, workers are deprived of the choice of whether or not to join a union or pay fees, resulting in “compulsory unionism.” They also argue such laws attract businesses, resulting in private-sector growth.

Opponents say such laws weaken unions’ ability to secure better wages, benefits and working conditions for workers. According to an analysis by the left-leaning think tank Economic Policy Institute, wages in “right-to-work” states are more than 3% lower than in non-“right-to-work” states, “even after controlling for a full set of worker characteristics and state labor market conditions.”

Union membership in the U.S. is at a record low, according to Gallup, despite high public approval. This may be surprising given the spate of high-profile news about unionization, but Gallup explained that “although the absolute number of union members has risen, nonunion jobs have risen faster.”

In the wake of Michigan’s repeal, private-sector employers in the state should expect unions to push to add back security clauses, attorneys have said. The repeal will not affect public-sector employers, as the U.S. Supreme Court determined public-sector, nonunion employees could not be forced to pay union dues in the 2018 decision Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31.