Michigan becomes the nation’s 24th right-to-work state Thursday, giving workers the ability to opt out of forced unionism.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s right-to-work law took effect at midnight, meaning workers who are not covered by long-term employment contracts now have the ability to withdraw from labor unions. The reforms also prevent employers from mandating union dues as a condition of employment.
State Sen. Pat Colbeck (R.), an architect of the law, said the law’s implementation would go a long way toward bringing economic development back to the struggling state.
"We want to give workers the opportunity to make a choice to financially support the union so they have the freedom of association," he said. "We also want to do everything we can for economic development—this is a giant ‘open for business’ sign for our state."
Terry Bowman, founder of Union Conservatives and a longtime member of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, pushed for the legislation for years because he said he was "fed up with my dues money being used to advance a political agenda I didn’t believe in."
He said the implementation of the law would force unions to refocus their efforts on negotiating on behalf of union workers, rather than politicians.
"We are celebrating our independence day as union members," Bowman told the Washington Free Beacon hours before the law went into effect. "[Union executives] knew workers were forced to financially support them, so there was no incentive for union officials to do a good job for their members; this will make unions accountable to their members."
Not every worker will be affected by the bill’s implementation. For example, Bowman will remain a UAW member until his existing contract with Ford expires in 2015. Several Michigan unions spent the months following the bill’s passage pushing for long-term contracts to stave off implementation.
Some of the deals have been controversial.
The Taylor School District granted the local teachers union a five-year contract over employee wages and work conditions, but approved a separate agreement that would force all teachers to pay dues to the union for the next 10 years. National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation attorney Glenn Taubman said the contract is ripe for courtroom challenges.
"They don’t want wages and working conditions locked in for 10 years, but they want to keep the ability to force union dues [on teachers]," he said. "It’s very brazen."
Linda Moore, president of the Taylor teachers union, received the "outstanding organizer" award from state American Federation of Teachers for shutting down the school system so that teachers could protest right-to-work.
Neither the district nor the union returned multiple calls for comment.
Bowman said lawmakers and activists would not have long to rest on their laurels. Unions have flooded more than just court dockets with challenges to the bill. Labor leaders have hinted at a 2014 ballot push to repeal the legislation.
That gives activists 18 months to maintain positive poll numbers regarding labor reforms.
Bowman has embarked on a multi-city town hall tour throughout the state with Americans For Prosperity’s Michigan chapter to extol the law’s virtues.
"This is not over by any means. We know the union going to spend tens of millions of dollars to defeat it," Bowman said. "We’re never going to come up with that kind of money, but as long as we can educate the public that right-to-work is pro-union worker, we’re going to safely defend this."
Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation that has spearheaded labor reforms in other states, said the law’s momentum would only build over time. He compared the law to Wisconsin’s labor reform, which inspired initial public opposition before winning over support after implementation.
The popularity of the reforms eventually helped Republican Gov. Scott Walker become the first governor to survive a recall election, he added.
"When it goes into effect, people will realize that the sun will rise in the morning, despite what union bosses have told them," Mix said. "It will also repair the damage to economic that was done by 60 years of forced unionism. Voters will realize its benefits in creating jobs just like they did in Wisconsin."