Michigan Becomes First State To Repeal ‘Right-To-Work’ Law In Decades

Michigan became the first state in decades to repeal its “right-to-work” law when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed legislation on Friday to rescind it.

The governor’s office said in a release that Whitmer signed a package of bills that will protect workers’ safety and help them push for better wages and working conditions.

“Today, we are coming together to restore workers’ rights, protect Michiganders on the job, and grow Michigan’s middle class,” Whitmer said in the statement. “Michigan workers are the most talented and hard-working in the world and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.” 

The repeal of the law is a major victory for labor unions in the state amid record low union membership nationwide. 

“Right-to-work” laws allow employees at unionized workplaces to opt out of joining a union and or paying dues.

Proponents of these types of laws argue that they allow workers to decide for themselves whether to join a union. Critics contend that they harm employees’ pay, benefits and working conditions through weakening the union because the workers who don’t join are officially represented by the union, even if they are not members.

Repealing the law was among Michigan Democrats’ top priorities after the November midterm elections in which the party won control of both houses of the state legislature with a Democratic governor in office for the first time in four decades. 

The law was first implemented in 2012 when Republicans had control of both houses and former GOP Gov. Rick Snyder was in office. 

Whitmer also signed a prevailing wage law into effect that requires contractors who are working on state projects to pay union-level wages. Republicans had repealed this law in 2018. 

State Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D), who sponsored the bill to overturn the “right-to-work” law, said in the release that Michigan’s action is the first time in almost 60 years that a state has overturned such a law. 

Indiana was the most recent state to repeal a “right-to-work” law in 1965. Republicans restored the law in 2012. 

“We were so proud to get this to the governor’s desk, and even prouder to see it signed into law—this is tangible proof that the Republican attack on organized labor has failed,” Camilleri said. “We’re entering a new chapter in Michigan.” 

The state House and Senate both approved the repeal along party lines on their way to sending the bill to Whitmer’s desk. 

State Rep. Matt Hall, the House Republican leader, said Whitmer’s signature on the bill will cause businesses to seek other states that are more competitive than Michigan. 

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 26 other states and Guam have right-to-work laws in place. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.