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Right to work repeal heading to Whitmer

Truck parked in front of Michigan Capitol supports repeal of right-to-work law.
Rick Pluta
Truck parked in front of Michigan Capitol supports repeal of right-to-work law.

The Legislature has sent Governor Gretchen Whitmer pro-union bills that include repealing Michigan’s decade-old right-to-work law.

Adopting the bills was the fulfillment of a promise made by Democrats and a long-held wish by organized labor since Michigan became a right-to-work state in a rowdy, contentious session in 2012 when Republicans held power in the state Capitol. The 2012 law allows workers to opt out of paying union dues even if their workplace is represented by a union.

“It’s huge,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber. “It’s huge for the entire labor movement nationally to have a victory for working people and make progress for a change.”

People cheered from the galleries as bills cleared the state House and Senate on their way to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who has said she will sign them. The Legislature also adopted bills to require state contractors to pay union-level wages.

The bills were approved over the objections of Republicans who argued repealing right-to-work would make Michigan less friendly to businesses.

Democratic Representative Regina Weiss said that’s a false choice.

“You don’t have to choose to support business and then choose to screw over workers,” she said. “You can support business. You can support workers at the same time. And supporting workers also actually helps support investments into our economy.”

But Senate Republican Leader Aric Nesbitt called the bills a setback for the state’s economy.

“There’s a lot of manufacturers that will only consider right-to-work states,” he said. “And this is going to be a challenge going forward, is that it shows the unseriousness of the Democrats and Governor Whitmer on trying to grow the economy.”

Republicans also cried foul because the bills include appropriations, which would inoculate a new law against a referendum. Whitmer criticized that tactic after a Republican-led Legislature did the same thing to shield the 2012 law from a ballot challenge.

The Michigan Constitution shields budget bills from referendums to protect the state’s credit rating and capacity to pay its debts.

But right-to-work supporters say the fight may not be over as they ponder launching a ballot drive to supersede the repeal by amending the Michigan Constitution.

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Rick Pluta is the managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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