House Bills Would Repeal Right-to-Work, Restore Prevailing Wage Law

LANSING, Mich. – More than a decade ago, the Michigan Legislature — which at the time was controlled by Republicans — passed a “right-to-work” law that prohibited unions from forcing nonunion employees to pay union dues even if the union bargained on their behalf.

A decade later, that law is one step closer to being gone.

Michigan’s Democratic-led House on Wednesday approved a bill that would repeal the right-to-work law.

With supporters of the repeal cheering, state Rep. Jim Haadsma, D-Battle Creek, spoke from the House floor.

“This bill is not about making history,” Haadsma said, according to the Associated Press. “It is about restoring the rights of workers from whose work we’ve all benefited.”

The legislation passed along party lines, as did a bill restoring the state’s prevailing wage law, which requires contractors hired for state projects to pay union-level wages, was also approved by the House.

Both bills still need to pass the state Senate before being sent to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for final approval.

The right-to-work repeal for the public and private sectors includes $1 million in appropriations to make the legislation referendum-proof, a maneuver that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer promised to veto when she took office in 2019, according to The Detroit News. Whitmer has vetoed such legislation in the past. Republicans used the same tool when they passed right to work 10 years ago.

The House Labor Committee advanced the repeal and the legislation restoring the state’s prevailing wage law, the AP reported. The committee allowed just over an hour of testimony, predominantly from supporters of the repeal, before voting to advance the bills.

In a statement, Whitmer applauded the committee for “putting Michigan workers first.”

“Working people should always have basic freedoms in the workplace without interference from the government,” she said. “The Restoring Workers Rights legislation will protect workers across the state, including nurses who put patient care over profit, construction workers who speak up over safety concerns, and restaurant employees or food processing workers who flag food violations. In Michigan, working people should always have basic freedoms in the workplace without interference from the government.”

But John Walsh, president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, said he’s “deeply concerned” about the legislation he said would “reverse progress on Michigan’s economic competitiveness and the ability to grow and keep jobs.”

“While Michigan has been the cradle of manufacturing innovation for well over a century, the global transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles raises the question about whether Michigan will retain its manufacturing base into the 21st century,” Walsh said. “It is a critical question since manufacturing is the largest sector of the state’s economy, employing over 612,000 people in Michigan; the success or failure of Michigan’s manufacturing industry is the success or failure of our state.

“If Michigan loses its decade-long status as a Right-to-Work state, the Great Lakes State will remove itself from the list of states for potential new investment for both companies outside of Michigan and those who are already here,” Walsh added. “Whether the new investment is related to electric vehicle and battery production, or based in the knowledge economy, semiconductors or green energy, Michigan will lose future investment and we will lose good-paying manufacturing jobs.” 

According to the AP, House Republicans said the public showed its support of right-to-work when voters rejected a 2012 constitutional amendment that aimed to protect the right to organize and bargain collectively. They also complained that the bills were being rushed through and that more debate was needed, according to the AP.

That complaint drew some laughter from at least part of the crowd. When Republicans passed the legislation in 2012, the passage took a week.

“This is not a question that should be jammed through,” said Republican state Rep. Tom Kunse, according to The News.

Haadsma, who chairs the House Labor Committee, said approval was necessary “so we can accomplish this by spring break.” The Legislature’s two-week break starts March 23.