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Michigan's Right to Work Legislation: A Defining Policy Shift

Michigan historically has been at the forefront of labor law changes. This remains the case with the implementation and recent repeal of Michigan’s right-to-work legislation. Michigan workplaces are no longer governed by a “right-to-work” law, as the repeal took effect on February 13, 2024. Once again employees can be required to join a union to keep their jobs. Employers and employees alike question what effects this repeal may have on the relationship between labor unions and Michigan employers.

Origins of Right to Work

In 2012, Michigan passed its right-to-work law, which prohibited mandatory union membership as a condition for employment in unionized workplaces. It allowed workers to opt out of paying union dues, thereby protecting free choice and encouraging unions to offer services that employees considered worth the cost of union dues.

Implications of Right to Work

In states with right-to-work laws, employees have the freedom to decline or resign from union membership, avoiding the obligation to pay dues. Conversely, in states without such laws, unions frequently include security clauses in their collective bargaining agreements, requiring the employees to join the union or provide financial support as a condition of employment. What’s more, union security clauses permit unions to force employers to discharge employees who refuse to do so.  However, employees can become “Beck objectors,” paying only dues related to representational activities.  

Repeal and Legislative Shifts

Michigan became the first state in nearly six decades to repeal its right-to-work law through legislative action.  It constitutes a significant departure from previous policy directions. Michigan’s Legislature also took measures to prevent the enactment of other right-to-work protections in the state going forward, such as restrictions on municipalities from enacting right-to-work ordinances.

Proponents of the repeal argue that it prioritizes workers' interests, fosters stronger labor unions, and enhances collective bargaining power. Conversely, critics believe it will have adverse effects on the state’s business climate, economic development, and job creation. With union membership still remaining at historic lows, it remains to be seen what practical effect the repeal of “right to work” protections will have on a long-term basis.

Moving Forward

As Michigan navigates this policy shift, stakeholders from across the political spectrum continue to monitor its effects closely. Michigan employers should anticipate potential union efforts to reintroduce or establish union security provisions. This includes understanding the extent and boundaries of the employer’s bargaining responsibilities. Increases in unionization drives in non-unionized workplaces are also expected.    

Given the uncertainty created by the repeal of Michigan’s Right-to-Work law, employers are well advised to consult with their labor counsel to prepare for possible collective bargaining demands and other union activity. 

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