Michigan Right-to-Work Law to End, Strengthening Unions in Controversial Move

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Some believe that the governor repealed Michigan’s opportunity to compete with the 26 states.

Michigan will repeal its right-to-work statute, enacted in 2012, on March 24, making it the first state to do so in nearly six decades.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the move is essential to protect the rights of union workers in the state, which, at 166,800, is home to the most auto manufacturing jobs in the U.S.

“No matter who you are or where you come from, if you work hard, you should be able to provide for your family and have a fair shot at a better future. You should have the freedom to live the way you want. That’s the American dream,” Ms. Whitmer said at her 2024 State of the State Address, ahead of the repeal that critics warn will have the opposite effect.

In a prepared statement regarding the repeal Ms. Whitmer said: “Today, we are coming together to restore workers’ rights, protect Michiganders on the job, and grow Michigan’s middle class.

“Michigan workers are the most talented and hard-working in the world and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

But there are loud voices in Lansing, Michigan’s state capital, who believe that the governor repealed Michigan’s opportunity to compete with the 26 states, particularly those with right-to-work laws like Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, especially in auto production.

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“She talks about how she’s going to do amazing things to grow the state and then she repeals right to work,” State Senator Jonathan Lindsey (R-Allen) told The Epoch Times. “We can’t take her seriously when she talks about the Michigan economy and takes an amazing amount of credit for the decisions the Democrats made last year to become a global leader on climate policy.”

Michigan’s repeal of the right-to-work statute eliminates the 2012 legislation, which gave employees in unionized jobs a right to opt out of union membership or require payment of union dues or fees as a condition of employment.

In 2019, Democratic former state representative Brian Elder told The Associated Press that right-to-work laws in Michigan allowed “free-riders to gain the benefits of union representation—increased wages, benefits, and workplace safety—without paying to be a member of a union. That’s just morally wrong.”

But, some believe the repeal taking effect this Spring will severely impact Michigan’s ability to get companies to move there.

“Michigan passing right-to-work legislation was a strong signal the state would be competitive with other states, the majority of which did not have the same cost burden that it imposed on its manufacturers. Since the adoption (in 2012), we saw a lot of interest in companies who wouldn’t have considered coming otherwise,” Patrick Anderson, CEO of the Anderson Economic Group in Lansing, told The Epoch Times.

“Reversing right-to-work [legislation] will have the opposite effect. We’ve polled hundreds of manufacturers who said they believe they’d have to pay higher costs to come to Michigan.”

According to a new report from the University of Michigan and Michigan Future entitled “A New Path to Prosperity? Manufacturing and Knowledge-Based Industries as Drivers of Economic Growth,” the state has regressed, now ranking 39th in personal income per capita among the 50 states.

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Mr. Lindsey says that both sides of the political aisle in Michigan have made bad decisions affecting the state economy but he still places the lion’s share of the burden on Ms. Whitmer.

“It’s going to take more discipline for the Republicans as well so that we don’t participate in the bad ideas the governor is selling,” he said. “We had a split opinion on spending a lot of taxpayer money on the Ford battery mega site, that could have been used better to return money or cut taxes.

“We tried to do something for a project that wasn’t really vetted to see what kind of jobs were going to be produced and didn’t ask important questions. We need to learn to say no to bad ideas.”

Last year, with great fanfare, Ms. Whitmer announced a new Ford EV battery plant would be built in the rural Michigan town of Marshall, creating 2,500 jobs. As part of the deal, she announced the state would give Ford $210 million in taxpayer money for the plant and another $120 million for site preparation.

Months later, Ford announced that it was changing the original build to a much smaller plant, which would employ 800 fewer people than advertised. According to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank, none of the taxpayer money given to Ford was contingent on creating the 2,500 jobs it initially announced.

During the great recession, which led to the bankruptcy filing of GM and Chrysler and the financial destruction of hundreds of suppliers, there was a loud cry for Michigan to diversify its job market and not be so dependent on auto industry performance.  Since then, the state has had mixed results, according to Mr. Anderson.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say we never diversified. Michigan has developed a high-technology cluster and a strong agriculture and tourism industry. But we still have the auto industry as our anchor industry and are still very sensitive to economic upturns and downturns. The state government is generally not powerful in effecting that in the short term,” he added.

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