- Michigan House expected to vote on Right-to-Work repeal bills
- Less than two hours of committee testimony planned
- Unions, Gov. Whitmer support the repeal effort
LANSING — Michigan House Democrats are gearing up for fast action on controversial legislation to repeal the state’s so-called Right-to-Work law, a move that could prompt a bitter fight with Republican supporters.
The 2012 GOP law, which prohibits labor contracts that require union dues or fees, is heavily opposed by unions and became a top target for Democrats when they regained full control of the Legislature in January.
A relatively short debate over Right-to-Work repeal legislation is set to begin Wednesday morning in the House Labor Committee, and the full House is expected to vote on related measures later in the day.
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Democrats have a narrow, two-seat majority in the House but are confident they have the votes for passage, Labor Committee Chair Jim Haadsma told Bridge Michigan.
Repealing Right-to-Work is about “fairness” and “restores the balance in the employer-employee bargaining relationship,” said Haadsma, D-Battle Creek.
The law has limited the ability of workers “to unionize effectively,” he said. “Right- to-Work, I don’t think has worked in the 10-plus years that we’ve had it.”
The House is also expected to take up companion legislation that would restore the state’s so-called prevailing wage law that would require union-scale wages and benefits on government funded construction projects.
Former Gov. Rick Snyder signed Michigan’s Right-to-Work law in 2012, dealing a blow to unions in a state heralded as the birthplace of the modern labor movement. Tens of thousands of union workers and other activists protested at the Capitol in a failed attempt to stop the legislation.
Snyder had initially resisted the Right-to-Work push but was convinced by fellow Republicans after voters soundly rejected a union-backed ballot initiative that sought to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the Michigan constitution.
Repealing the Right-to-Work law would be a mistake, according to former House Speaker Jase Bolger, a Republican who helped craft the legislation and now works as a policy advisor for the West Michigan Policy Forum.
“I don’t believe it’s anti-union; I believe it’s pro-worker” and has benefited the state, Bolger told Bridge Michigan last week.
While there is not much research specific to the Michigan law, he pointed to a Harvard study concluding that Right-to-Work states generally have higher employment levels and labor force participation with nearly identical average wages.
“There are more jobs, better pay and we have a stronger state after passing Right-to-Work,” Bolger said. “And so, while the issue can be politically charged, the policy is right, not just for workers, but for the state.”
Democrats disagree, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who as a state lawmaker was a leading opponent of the Right-to-Work law when Republicans approved it more than a decade ago.
“No one should be surprised about what my position has been on Right-to-Work,” Whitmer told Bridge in November, foreshadowing the repeal effort after Democrats won control of both chambers of the Michigan Legislature for the first time in 40 years.
Michigan is one of 27 states with a Right-to-Work law that gives workers a choice to pay union membership dues or fees, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Union membership has fallen significantly in Michigan since the law passed. Once a national leader in membership, the state’s 13.3 percent unionization rate is now only slightly above average.
Prior to 2013, MIchigan had allowed employment contracts that require union dues or fees across all sectors. But Right-to-Work repeal would only affect contracts with private employers, like automakers and other manufacturers.
The Supreme Court, in a landmark 2018 decision, prohibited mandatory union fees at public sector employers, like schools and governments.
Haadsma said he plans to allow for about an hour-and-a-half of testimony Wednesday morning before holding a committee vote on both the Right-to-Work repeal and prevailing wage restoration bills.
“I wish there were more opportunity” for testimony but House Democrats want to approve the bills before their “spring break,” which begins the last week of March, he said.
“I don’t think that a lot of additional hours of testimony would have changed or will change the outcome of the vote out of committee, or frankly, would have changed or will change the outcome of the vote on the House floor,” he said.
It’s not clear how soon the Democratic-controlled Senate might take up the Right-to-Work repeal legislation. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I’m confident the leadership of both the Senate and the House on the Democratic side is in harmony on all of this,” Haadsma said.