Michigan is delivering on its first Democratic trifecta in decades. On Friday, it became the first state in 58 years to repeal anti-worker so-called “right-to-work” laws.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the legislation Friday after the legislature sent it to her desk earlier this week.
The bill marks a huge tide shift for the labor movement. Indiana was the last state to repeal such a law in 1965, only for it to be reinstated by Republicans in 2012. That same year was when Michigan passed its anti-union right-to-work law, and since then, the state has lost some 40,000 union members.
Michigan’s repeal comes amid a resurgence of the labor movement, as union membership is increasing across the country along with labor actions like strikes. That may bode well for organizers in other states looking to roll back the anti-worker law. Twenty-six other states have right-to-work laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Right-to-work laws erode union power by allowing workers to forgo paying dues for union membership while still reaping the benefits. The laws, backed heavily by Republicans and their corporate lobby friends, consequently weaken union membership, treasuries, and overall organizing capabilities. Conservatives often frame it as a pro-business argument: that companies will choose to go where the laws are enacted, which stimulates economic growth. Implicit in that calculation is why companies would do that: to be able to more easily exploit their workers at the behest of their bottom line.
“‘Right to work’ is a lie designed to weaken workers’ rights and lower wages,” said Sean M. O’Brien, the general president of Teamsters. “Today, Michigan’s elected officials honored their state’s proud labor history by rejecting this dangerous and deceptive anti-union legislation.”
Whitmer promised in 2018 to repeal the anti-worker law. And after voters reelected her with wide margins in November and gave her party majorities to match, she now delivers on the promise.
“Now that workers’ rights have been restored, Michigan is once again leading the way for the country in showing what is possible when working families are put first,” said Janella James, executive director of the Michigan Nurses Association. “We want to thank Governor Whitmer and the Legislature for listening to workers and setting our state on a better path. Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in Michigan’s history.”