GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Michigan officially got rid of its right-to-work law on Tuesday, making it the first state in nearly 60 years to ditch the law.
Democrats made it a top priority in 2023 when they gained a trifecta controlling state government. The state Legislature passed bills repealing the law last March and the repeal took effect Tuesday.
Right-to-work prevented employees from being obligated to pay for and join a union. Those in favor of its repeal say workers who opted out are still getting benefits that unions fought for.
“If you’re going to reap benefits, you ought to be able to be a part of the solution, which means everyone contributing the strength of the union and their ability to negotiate and improve wages and working conditions for all workers,” said Ron Bieber, the president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, which represents more than a million workers across the state.
A spokesperson for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a right-leaning think tank, said workers should have the freedom to make their own decision.
“Nobody should have to join a union against their will,” said Jarrett Skorup, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s vice president for marketing and communications.
If right-to-work wasn’t being repealed, Skorup agreed that unions shouldn’t have to support nonunion members.
“That organization should not have to support or benefit people if they’re not paying them,” he said. “We would be totally in support of the Legislature saying you could join a union or not, and if you don’t join one, they don’t have to provide you any benefits.”
The right-to-work repeal is one of several new laws taking effect Tuesday, including the restoration of the prevailing wage and the repeal of tax on retiree pensions. Bieber called these actions “a big step forward” in “making Michigan a worker’s rights state again.”
“We want workers to feel like Michigan is an inviting open state where workers have a fair chance,” Bieber said.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy says its analysis found that unions lost more than 143,000 members since right-to-work went into effect in 2013. The center said that right-to-work states have faster population growth, job growth and household income growth. Skorup said the policy can entice businesses to expand to Michigan.
“We’ve become the first state in 60 years to repeal a right-to-work law,” Skorup said. “There’s a reason no other state has done so in so long, which is that it’s good for the economy.”
Union membership has fallen by 2.6% in Michigan in the decade since right-to-work went into effect. Nationally, just 10% of hourly and salaried workers were members of unions last year, which is an all-time low.
Bieber argued that getting rid of right-to-work and supporting unions will ultimately lead to higher worker salaries.
“Expanding workers’ rights will create more jobs and people can actually raise their families on instead of low-wage work,” he said.
The elimination of the right-to-work law only affects private sector workers. Teachers, police officers and other public workers can still opt out of unions because of a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.