“Let’s continue delivering for working people and ensuring Michigan is open for business.”
Republicans have criticized the three bills, saying they will make the state less competitive for economic development projects while limiting workers’ abilities to choose whether they join a union. Repealing right to work will compel workers “to pay their dues or lose their jobs,” Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt, R-Porter Township, said earlier this month.
“In addition to being a disgraceful denial of individual freedom and self-determination, this action will effectively put a ‘closed for business’ sign on the state by drying up economic development opportunities, driving out businesses, weakening our communities, and endangering the stability of Michigan families,” Nesbitt said.
Then-Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, signed the right-to-work law in December 2012 after thousands of protesters gathered in Lansing to demonstrate against the measure. At the time, Whitmer was the minority leader of the state Senate.
Whitmer announced plans to repeal the law when she first ran for governor in 2018. In November, Whitmer won a second term in the state’s top office, and Democrats scored majorities in the House and the Senate for the first time in 40 years, giving her a chance to make her plans a reality.
Similarly, in 2018, Republicans repealed the prevailing wage standard, dropping a requirement that guaranteed union-scale wages and benefits on public projects, such as road and school construction.
GOP lawmakers have said the standard unfairly inflated construction costs for taxpayers. Democrats and labor leaders, including Tom Lutz, executive secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, have said the policy ensured workers were compensated fairly and led to higher quality construction.
“Today Gov. Whitmer and the Democratic majorities of the House and Senate delivered two incredible wins for working people across Michigan,” Lutz said.
Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber described the signing as “a new day in Michigan,” where “the future is bright.”
“After decades of anti-worker attacks, Michigan has restored the balance of power for working people by passing laws to protect their freedom to bargain for the good wages, good benefits, and safe workplaces they deserve,” Bieber said in a statement.
Whitmer signed the bills on Friday even though they included appropriations that will protect them from facing referendum votes. Under the Michigan Constitution, bills with spending in them cannot be subjected to referenda.
The Democratic governor had previously criticized GOP efforts to insert appropriations in controversial bills and vowed not to continue the practice. But she changed coursed with the right-to-work repeal and prevailing wage, which former House Speaker Jase Bolger, a Republican, described as “beyond hypocrisy.”
Bolger said conversations are continuing and are real about a potential constitutional amendment campaign. Backers of the effort would have to gather 446,198 valid signatures to get a proposal on he ballot. A referendum would have taken half that number or 223,099 valid signatures.
In a statement, Detroit Regional Chamber President and CEO Sandy Baruah said repealing right to work “weakens Michigan’s global economic competitive position and harms our ability to vie for new businesses and jobs.”
“As states compete for jobs in the global market, those with right to work laws have a distinct advantage,” Baruah said. “Michigan now loses this key economic development tool to the detriment of our employment base and local economies.”
The new laws will likely take effect early in 2024, depending on when the Legislature concludes its 2023 session.