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Michigan House passes ‘Right to Work’ repeal

House Majority Floor Leader Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) reacts as vote tally shows bill to repeal Michigan’s “right-to-work” law will pass.
Rick Pluta
House Majority Floor Leader Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) reacts as vote tally shows bill to repeal Michigan’s “right-to-work” law will pass.

Legislationto repeal Michigan’s "Right-to-Work" law passed the Michigan House Wednesday night.

The law stops employers from making the payment of some union dues a condition for employment.

Democrats have been eyeing its repeal, often calling it anti-union, since Republican legislative majorities passed it into law in 2012.

Representative Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park) sponsored the legislation. She said Right to Work creates a freeloader problem where non-union workers can still benefit from union representation without paying their dues.

“Union dues are an important stream of revenue that help pay for critical contract negotiations, staff and support of members. When unions have decreased dues, they have less power to improve working conditions,” Weiss said from the House floor.

Several Democrats made the case that unions are the main ways to improve worker pay and workplace conditions.

Democratic Floor LeaderAbraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) gave a full-throated defense of unions.

“What choice do you have when the greedy corporations try to put employees against one another in a race to the bottom? Why do folks in here sometimes get so angry that we’re trying to push people out of poverty?” Aiyash said.

The bills passed along party-line votes.

Republicans voiced concerns that repealing Right to Work would make Michigan less competitive economically.

In his floor speech detailing his opposition, Rep. Graham Filler (R-Clinton County) said repealing Right to Work would make Michigan a less competitive state for jobs.

“People sent us here to help them make ends meet and find good paying and long-lasting careers. Why exactly, then, are we making laws to make Michigan a worse place to work and live and grow business,” Filler said.

Ahead of the vote, Republicans raised red flags about draft versions of changes to the bill they had received. Democrats quickly dismissed those drafts as being sent in error.

But the final versions of the bills that did pass included the addition of million-dollar spending appropriations that leadership said was for “education”-related purposes about the new policies.

The tactic of adding spending into those bills makes them immune to change by voter referendum.

Republicans used a similar strategy when first passing Right to Work in 2012.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has in the past spoken out against the strategy, issuing an executive directive during her first term pledging to veto such bills.

“We support restoring workers rights, and will be watching the legislation closely as it continues to move through the Legislature,” Whitmer spokesperson Bobby Leddy said when asked for a comment on the referendum-proof appropriation.

Republicans framed the Right-to-Work repeal as a step to far.

House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp) said it’s both unpopular and would be costly.

“This is the beginning of the Democrat overreach that’s going to lead to their demise and the Republicans taking back the House. It starts here today,” Hall told reporters.

Earlier in the day, the House Labor Committee held hearings on both the Right-to-Work repeal and a bill to require government contractors to pay union-level wages.

Associated Builders and Contractors of MichiganCEO Jimmy Greene spoke against both pieces of legislation. He described it as an economic issue.

“The union contractor is one of the best contractors here in the state. But it doesn’t erase the fact that … when you bring back mandated prevailing wage, you take away a fundamental right of local communities. And local communities should govern tax dollars,” Greene said.

House Democrats ended up passing the prevailing wage bill out of the chamber Wednesday night as well.

Sponsor Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac) said paying workers well would save money in the long run by leading to better constructed projects.

“We must ensure that our hard-working residents receive wages in line with the values of their skills, what they were trained to do. Not somebody that’s come on the job because it’s cost-effective to your business,” Carter said.

House leadership has said getting both a Right-to-Work repeal and prevailing wage legislation to the governor by the time lawmakers go on spring break later this month is a priority. The bills go next to the Senate, where they can be taken up as soon as Tuesday.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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