The right-to-work measures had allowed residents to decline union membership in their workplaces and exempted them from the forced payment of union dues. Michigan Democrats, who secured both chambers of the legislature as Whitmer won a second term, were able to repeal the right-to-work laws enacted by former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in 2012.
Even as the power of unions is expected to balloon as a result of the repeal, proponents of right-to-work legislation cautioned that the move would negatively impact individual liberties and the state economy. Officials could attempt to mimic the repeal in other states where Democrats recently made significant gains in legislative chambers.
“This is the first formal repeal of a right-to-work law anywhere in the country,” National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation President Mark Mix said in an interview with The Daily Wire. “We anticipate that the unions will work to repeal right-to-work laws across the country.”
The veteran attorney explained that the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act, guarantees workers the right to organize into trade unions and participate in collective bargaining. The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, also known as the Taft-Hartley Act, later amended the law so states could pass right-to-work legislation.
Mix added that states like Virginia, Iowa, Tennessee, and Nevada have each attempted to repeal right-to-work laws in the past. He predicted that “there will be litigation” surrounding the abused implementation of the expanded power granted to unions rather than whether the state could repeal the legislation.
Unions have lost more than 143,000 members since the right-to-work laws entered into effect in 2012, according to an analysis from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. There are now 26.5% fewer workers paying membership fees to the state’s largest unions; particularly severe losses occurred in the Service Employees International Union, which saw a nearly 66% decline in membership between 2012 and 2022, as well as the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which saw a 49% decline. The American Federation of Teachers and the Michigan Education Association witnessed 32% decreases in membership.
Mackinac Center Director of Labor Policy Steve Delie told The Daily Wire that the decline in union power over the past decade also corresponded with a consistently lower unemployment rate, an increased number of jobs, substantial rises in average income, and larger population influxes relative to the decade before the right-to-work laws were enacted. “Unfortunately, with right-to-work’s repeal, we are concerned that the state will return to the slower and weaker economy we had in the early 2000s,” he commented.
Mix likewise remarked that job growth in the manufacturing sector is five times faster in right-to-work states in comparison to forced union states, while site selection consultants have grown increasingly adamant about expanding in right-to-work states. “Governor Whitmer is whistling past the graveyard if she thinks companies that were looking at Michigan previously will not take a second look now that right-to-work is no longer part of the equation,” he noted.
Labor unions are known to overwhelmingly finance Democratic entities rather than their Republican counterparts. Delie confirmed that unions such as the United Auto Workers, the Michigan Region of Carpenters, and the AFL-CIO made extensive donations in the midterm elections and noted that there is now “a more direct tie in policies being advanced by unions in Michigan with political spending.” House Bill 4235, for instance, would provide a refundable tax credit to union members who pay their dues, meaning that “if union members’ dues exceed their state tax bill, the treasury will cut them a check.”
Delie said the Mackinac Center has “yet to hear” about similar repeal efforts in other states but predicted that such moves would occur in swing states. “Those are the states where a shift in partisan control can lead to broad policy changes, like the ones we are currently seeing in Michigan,” he commented.