Detroit Regional Chamber > Advocacy > Michigan Right to Work Repeal: What Workers, Businesses Need to Know

Michigan Right to Work Repeal: What Workers, Businesses Need to Know

February 15, 2024

Bridge Michigan
Feb. 14, 2024
Paula Gardner

Michigan workplaces are no longer governed by the Right to Work law, as the repeal took effect Tuesday of the decade-long regulation that allowed workers to opt out of paying dues in union-represented jobs but still receive benefits.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the law on March 24, 2023, months after Democrats won control of the governor’s office, state Senate and state House in the November 2022 election.

Repealing the law became one of the early policy priorities as Democrats eyed taking control of the legislature. The repeal passed along party lines in the House and Senate. The law is one of 142 that took effect Tuesday, three months after the Legislature adjourned. The repeal didn’t get enough support to take effect immediately.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Right to Work?

The law, which was approved by Republicans in a lame-duck session in 2012, banned requirements that workers join unions in order to receive their benefits.

Democrats — who are backed heavily by unions including the Michigan Education Association and United Auto Workers —  said the repeal prioritizes workers and labor rights.

Right to Work has “negatively impacted the state,” said House Speaker Joe Tate, D-Detroit, said in late 2022.

What Do Both Sides Say?

Labor groups argue Right to Work hurts workers’ ability to organize by reducing dues for unions who need money to organize groups of employees. They also claim that wage growth is lower in states with Right to Work laws — which critics say is the goal of Right to Work.

Business advocates say the law helped economic development in Michigan, making it more attractive to national site selectors who evaluate locations for new business.

When Democrats announced their intent to repeal the law, Michigan was one of the nation’s 27 Right to Work states, many of which compete with the state for large-scale electric vehicle battery manufacturing such as Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.

Who is Affected by the Change?

Only private sector employees. The repeal did not address the public sector.

However, few changes are expected, according to the Detroit Regional Chamber.

“Businesses that are union shops continue to partner with unions and only a small percentage of union workers opt out of paying dues,” the Detroit Regional Chamber said on Tuesday.

What if You Don’t Want to Join a Union?

Those in unionized workplaces don’t have to rejoin their union and can still opt out of union membership at any time, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free market think tank.

“The primary difference now is that they will have to pay the union agency fees, which often come to 90% of full dues,” the Mackinac Center said on Tuesday.

During Right to Work, tens of thousands of Michigan union members opted out of union membership, according to Mackinac Center estimates, a move that cost unions at least $50 million annually in lost dues.

What do Businesses Say?

Michigan’s two largest chambers, along with other business advocacy groups, opposed the move. Their concerns continue as the repeal takes effect.

“The repeal of Right to Work weakens Michigan’s global economic competitive position and harms our ability to vie for new businesses and jobs,” the Detroit Regional Chamber said on Tuesday.

“As states compete for jobs in the global market, those with Right to Work laws have a distinct advantage,” the chamber added. “Michigan now loses this key economic development tool to the detriment of our employment base and local economies.”

Was Right to Work Effective?

Studies vary about the impact of the law, depending on who paid for them.

Labor-backed research has concluded the laws have eroded wages, led to higher debt and poorer health. Pro-business research has concluded it has a positive effect on economic growth. Much of that growth, however, has occurred in Right to Work states in the South, where warm weather and other factors already are attractive to business.

“Right to Work laws may have some positive effects on attracting manufacturing jobs,” Tim Bartik, an economist focused on development for the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, told Bridge in late 2022.

One benefit could be attracting manufacturing jobs in areas that border other states, such as west Michigan areas close to Indiana.

Yet those jobs, Bartik said, would not be high-paying positions. And setting statewide policy based on that manufacturing growth would not be likely to generate overall job gains or wage increases in Michigan.

RELATED: Right to Work Repeal Takes Effect, What This Means for Business in Michigan