Legislation to repeal Michigan’s “right-to-work” law and restore prevailing wage requirements is headed to the Senate—without any help from Republican lawmakers.
LANSING—State representatives on Wednesday voted to repeal Michigan’s “right-to-work” law and restore prevailing wage requirements—as well as basic rights—for workers. The final vote was 56-53, with every Republican lawmaker voting to keep the anti-worker laws in place.
Michigan’s “right-to-work” law—which was passed more than a decade ago in 2012 when Republicans controlled the state Legislature—prohibits labor unions from requiring that nonunion employees pay union dues, even if the union bargains on their behalf.
Michigan workers have argued that the legislation effectively stripped unions of much of their funding base, and weakened their collective bargaining efforts—which has only helped private companies and boosted the influence of corporate lobbyists at the expense of organized labor.
Research shows that workers in right-to-work states make about $5,000 a year less than workers in other states, and tend to lack health insurance compared to free-bargaining states. Data also shows that workplace injuries and deaths are more frequent in right-to-work states.
Repealing the law has been a top priority for Democrats in Michigan since they took full control of the state government this year.
“It is about restoring the rights of workers from whose work we’ve all benefited,” Rep. Jim Haadsma (D-Battle Creek) said on the House floor prior to the vote on Wednesday evening.
Supporters of the repeal, who poured into the gallery above the House chambers, cheered loudly as the legislation was passed. Another bill to restore the state’s prevailing wage law, which requires state contractors to pay union-level wages, was also approved by the House.
Both bills will need to pass the state Senate before being sent to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for final approval. In a statement after the vote, Whitmer thanked lawmakers for putting “Michigan workers first.” The legislation could be advanced by the Senate as early as next week.
The House Labor Committee heard testimony on the repeal early Wednesday—with supporters of the bills again packing the main committee room and three overflow areas. More than an hour of testimony mostly featured proponents of the repeal before the bills advanced to the floor.
“We don’t want the government telling two private parties what they can agree to in negotiations,” said South Central Michigan AFL-CIO President Jonathan Byrd.
In a statement, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said that every worker deserves the right to collectively bargain, as well as be paid a fair wage for their work.
“These newly restored rights will be critical to building an economy that works for everyone throughout our state,” she said. “Meanwhile, Republicans continue to put big corporations first and working people last, while doing everything they can to deny Michiganders their basic rights. Despite what they say on the campaign trail, they refuse to stand up for working people.”
When the state Legislature passed the right-to-work legislation in 2012, thousands of union supporters descended on the Capitol to protest. The law dealt a devastating blow to organized labor in a state that had played an important role in the growth of the US labor movement.
The year before, Wisconsin under Republican Gov. Scott Walker proposed all but ending collective bargaining for most public workers. It set off weeks of protests that grew to as large as 100,000 people and led state senators to leave the state in a failed attempt to stop the bill.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.