Michigan enacted a ban on mandatory union membership on Tuesday, dealing a stunning blow to organized labor in the state that is home to U.S. automakers and the symbol of industrial labor in the United States.
As thousands of angry union members shouted their opposition outside the state Capitol in Lansing, the Republican-controlled legislature completed work on two measures to ban unions from requiring workers to pay membership dues. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) then signed them into law Tuesday evening.
Snyder told a news conference after he signed the bills: “I view this as an opportunity to stand up for Michigan’s workers, to be pro-worker.”
The Huff Post writes, right-to-work laws forbid contracts between companies and unions that require all workers to pay the union for bargaining on their behalf. Although business groups and conservatives cast the issue in terms of workplace freedom, unions note that the laws allow workers to opt out of supporting the union although they reap the benefits of the collective bargaining.
Since the laws tend to weaken unions generally, unions, as well as President Barack Obama, call the legislation “right to work for less.”
“And by the way, what we shouldn’t do — I’ve just got to say this — what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions,” Obama said to loud applause from the audience.
He continued: “We shouldn’t be doing that. The so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws — they don’t have to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”
According to the Washington Post, the “right to work” effort illustrates the power of Republicans to use state legislative majorities won in 2010 to pursue their policy preferences, even after losing a bitter presidential election
Actually by weakening unions, Republicans also could hurt the Democratic Party, which traditionally receives a significant portion of its funding and grass-roots support from unions.
The GOP-controlled state legislature had fast-tracked the two bills, which authorize right-to-work measures for public and private unions in the state, bypassing the normal committee process and public input period.
The laws will take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session, which means they will probably come into force sometime in April. Existing union contracts will not be changed until they expire, according to a provision of the laws, reports the Reuters.
In a rapid turn of events, Michigan moved from being a bastion of union influence to joining states, mostly in the South, that have weakened local protections for unions.
Even before Snyder signed the bills, labor unions were investigating ways to possibly repeal them. Labor officials were largely taken off-guard by the rapid push for right to work, believing that Snyder was sincere in his negotiations with them to keep it off his desk.
Unions have accused Snyder of caving in to wealthy Republican business owners and political donors such as the Koch brothers, owners of an energy and trading conglomerate, and Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Michigan-based Amway.
However, supporters predicted that the new law will be a boon to economic growth in an era of global competition. But unions say the measure will starve them of money, weakening their ability to bargain for their members and undercutting their ability to support Democratic political candidates, who typically back their causes.