Proud Day for Michigan Unions: State Repeals Right-to-Work

Michigan members Doug Wakefield, Dan Wydick, Ryan Rogers, Matt Edson, and Ken Bickle outside the state capitol.

On March 24, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a repeal of the state’s so-called “right-to-work” law, which was enacted in 2012 when Republicans controlled both the state legislature and the governor’s office. Michigan is the first state to repeal a right-to-work law in nearly 60 years.

The so-called “right-to-work” law allowed those in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying union dues and fees. As a result, Michigan, a state with historically high union density, saw its union membership fall to an all-time low last year.

The repeal was a top priority for the state’s Democrats, who this year took control of both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s office for the first time in 40 years. Under the Michigan Constitution, the law will take effect in early 2024 (90 days after the close of the legislative session). At that time, all union contracts with private sector employers in Michigan can once again include union security clauses that require all covered employees to join the union or pay the equivalent of union dues.

Craig Wright, Ken Bickle and Ben Hatler witnessing the Michigan House vote on the repeal.

The state’s public sector employees still won’t have the same rights due to the U. S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which effectively made every state right-to -work for the public sector. However, if and when the Janus decision is ever overturned, the Michigan public sector right-to-work repeal provides that Michigan will no longer be a public sector right-to-work state.

This is a momentous victory for the labor movement in Michigan and beyond. Many UWUA members worked to elect a Democratic majority in 2022, and that majority kept its promise to repeal right-to-work. The governor also recently signed legislation restoring Michigan’s prevailing wage law that had been repealed by Republicans in 2018. Contractors hired for state projects must once again pay union-level wages.

UWUA members from throughout Michigan made many trips to Lansing in the weeks leading up to March 24. Craig Wright, president of the Michigan State Utility Workers Council, is proud of the work that many UWUA locals and other unions did: “It was incredible to see so many labor organizations unite on multiple days to support our Democratic-majority-led house and senate, as they stood united and pushed back over 10 years of anti-union legislation and placed the bills on Governor Whitmer’s desk, which she proudly signed.”