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Michigan Becomes the 24th State to Pass “Right-to-Work” Laws

December 12, 2012

Yesterday evening, Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder signed into law two bills passed by the state legislature making Michigan the 24th “right-to-work” state. The bills, House Bill No. 4003 concerning public sector employees and Senate Bill No. 116 concerning private sector employees, in their final form respectively may be found here and here. Right-to-work laws prohibit employees in a union organized workplace from being required to join a union or pay union membership dues in order to obtain or keep their employment. Michigan’s right-to-work laws received national attention in recent days due to the speed with which they moved through the Republican-controlled legislature and the protests that followed. Proponents tout the laws as fostering business investment in the state by employers while opponents decry the laws as eroding union membership.

Michigan’s right-to-work laws apply to nearly all private and public employees and employers (excluded are firefighters and police officers). The laws’ key provisions include prohibiting, as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment, an individual from being required to: (1) refrain or resign from membership in, voluntary affiliation with, or voluntary financial support of a labor union; (2) become or remain a member of a labor union; (3) pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount, or provide anything of value to a labor union; or (4) pay to any charitable organization or third-party an amount in lieu of, or equivalent to, or any portion of dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses required of members of, or employees represented by, a labor union. The laws also prohibit employees and other persons from compelling, through force, intimidation, or unlawful threats, an individual to: (1) become or remain a member of a labor union or otherwise affiliate with or financially support a labor union; (2) refrain from engaging in employment or from joining a labor union or otherwise affiliating with or financially supporting a labor union; or (3) pay to any charitable organization or third-party an amount that would be in lieu of, equivalent to, or any portion of dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses required of members of, or employees represented by, a labor union. Both laws impose a maximum $500 civil fine for violations of these provisions. Additionally, individuals injured by a violation or threatened violation of these provisions may bring a civil action for damages and/or injunctive relief. A court would be required to award a prevailing plaintiff his or her costs and attorneys’ fees for bringing such a lawsuit.

Passed as appropriations bills, both laws are ineligible for voter repeal through referendum under the state’s constitution. The laws will become effective 90 days following the close of the legislative session this month.

The right-to-work laws do not affect collective bargaining agreements (CBA) already in effect and those employees that are currently subject to their terms. Thus, the laws do not change any “dues check off” agreement for the term of any existing CBA. CBAs containing union security provisions mandating the payment of union dues and union membership will be deemed unlawful and unenforceable if entered into or renewed after the laws’ effective date. Employees no longer subject to a CBA entered into or renewed before the right-to-work laws’ effective date may resign their union membership and discontinue paying union dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses subject to the rules of their union. Employees who have resigned from the union and ceased paying dues will remain subject to the CBA. The union can prohibit the employees from voting in any internal union matters or ratification votes.

If you have any questions regarding Michigan’s right-to-work laws, please contact one of Honigman’s Labor and Employment attorneys.