Michigan Legislature to Consider Right-to-Work

Michigan may become the second right-to-work state in the heavily unionized industrial Midwest.

Michigan Capitol building / AP
December 6, 2012

Michigan Republican legislators will file legislation today that would allow workers to opt out of joining unions as a condition of employment.

Employees must currently join a union and pay dues in unionized shops or pay an agency fee. That system has helped make Michigan one of the most heavily unionized states in the country. More than 17 percent of workers belong to unions, 50 percent higher than the national average.

The announcement has led to a scramble in Lansing as the GOP, which controls the legislature and executive branch, tries to push through the reform during the December lame duck session.

The renewed effort pleased Terry Bowman, a 16-year member of the United Auto Workers and founder of Union Conservatives, a nonprofit advocacy group.

"As it stands now, there is no competition for union’s dues and they can do whatever they want and the employee has no recourse because they are required as a condition of employment to pay those dues," he said. "Right to work is pro-union worker because it forces the unions to work harder smarter and better for the workers instead of politicians."

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has passed a number of labor reforms since taking office in 2011 but had previously ruled out right-to-work legislation. He reversed himself on Tuesday, announcing that the reform would be part of his agenda.

Ending mandatory union dues has taken a large toll on unions in other states. Wisconsin’s largest teacher unions have seen membership drop 30 percent since Gov. Scott Walker made dues voluntary for state workers. They are considering a merger to reverse the loss and preserve their political clout.

Right-to-work would not immediately allow union members to stop paying dues and Bowman says it is no guarantee that he leaves the UAW.

"My contract lasts until 2015 so I would have to fulfill that; but even then I may not drop out if the union can prove to me that they are willing to focus on workers and innovate," he said.

Labor groups have already flocked to the Michigan state capitol to object to the law. The UAW will stage a rally Thursday afternoon to march through the streets of Lansing.

Snyder’s push comes 10 months after Indiana became the region’s first right-to-work state. Unions in that state have filed suits to block the law.