In win for unions, Whitmer repeals Michigan's 'right-to-work' law, brings back prevailing wage

President Biden applauds Canada for 'opening new, legal pathways' for migrants
President Biden applauds Canada for 'opening new, legal pathways' for migrants
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed into law Democratic bills to repeal the state's right-to-work law that allowed workers to opt out of paying union dues or fees. She also reinstated a prevailing wage law that requires union-level wages and benefits for state-funded construction projects.

"Today, we are coming together to restore workers’ rights, protect Michiganders on the job, and grow Michigan's middle class," Whitmer said in a statement Friday. "Michigan workers are the most talented and hard-working in the world and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect."

In repealing right-to-work, Whitmer reneged on a promise she made at the outset of her first term as governor to veto legislation containing appropriations. Because voters cannot subject bills that include spending provisions to a referendum, Whitmer signed an executive directive vowing to reject bills that included appropriations to circumvent the public's right to a referendum.

The spending in the right-to-work repeal bills mirrors what Republican lawmakers did last decade. Democrats also include appropriations approved by Whitmer in the prevailing wage bill, dedicating funds for the purpose of educating the public on the major labor law changes.

Just over half of states have right-to-work laws in place. With the stroke of her pen, Whitmer made Michigan the first state in nearly 60 years to abandon the policy opposed by labor advocates.

"Today is a historic win for workers everywhere," said state Sen. Darrin Camilleri, D-Trenton, who introduced one of the bills to repeal right-to-work. "We're entering a new chapter in Michigan."

More:Democratic lawmakers send Whitmer bills to repeal right-to-work, reinstate prevailing wage

More:Michigan Senate Democrats pass bills repealing right-to-work law

The bills passed along party-line votes. Without any GOP support, the bills won't go into effect immediately. Instead, the changes will kick in 90 days after the end of the legislative session.

Republicans argue repealing right-to-work jeopardizes state efforts to attract businesses to locate to the state. Companies don't want to set up shop in places where workers could lose their jobs if they refuse to pay union dues or fees, they argue.

"Gov. Whitmer and Democrats have hurt Michigan’s ability to compete to attract high-paying careers," said House Republican Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township in a statement. "Without right-to-work, businesses will find more competitive states for their manufacturing plants and research and development facilities, and workers and careers will drift away."

Democrats disagree and contend that right-to-work is unfair because it allows "free riders" who benefit from the contracts negotiated on their behalf without paying into the union. The law has led to weakened unions and chipped away at their ability to negotiate better employment terms, they argue.

Slightly more than 9% of Michigan private sector workers were union members in 2021, compared with just over 11% in 2012, according to federal data compiled by researchers available at unionstats.com. Nearly 46,000 private sector workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement were not dues-paying union members.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks about the BlueOval Battery Park Michigan to be built in Marshall during a press announcement at Ford Ion Park in Romulus on Monday, February 13, 2023.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks about the BlueOval Battery Park Michigan to be built in Marshall during a press announcement at Ford Ion Park in Romulus on Monday, February 13, 2023.

In addition to repealing right-to-work for private sector workers, Whitmer also signed a bill that does the same for public sector workers in the event the U.S. Supreme Court reverses a previous decision barring public sector unions from requiring employees covered by collective bargaining agreements to pay union dues.

Democrats also celebrated Whitmer's signature to restore Michigan's prevailing wage law, which was first put on the books in 1965. Over 50 years later, Republicans in the state Legislature repealed the law in 2018.

Last year, Whitmer issued an executive directive reinstating prevailing wage for projects bid out by the Department of Technology, Management and Budget. But unlike the bill she signed, her directive did not apply to state-funded construction projects bid out by local school districts.

Clara Hendrickson fact-checks Michigan issues and politics as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Contact her at chendrickson@freepress.com or 313-296-5743. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Whitmer repeals 'right to work' in Michigan, revives prevailing wage