Right to Work in Michigan: An Unexpected Journey

Right to Work in Michigan: An Unexpected Journey

Is "right to work" an emotional topic in Michigan?  Consider the headline on the front page of the Sunday Detroit Free Press----Right to work: the battle for Michigan's soul. For the second time in two months, Michigan residents are getting a lesson in collective bargaining. The first lesson came when the unions backed a ballot initiative---Proposal 2--which was advertised as necessary to protect collective bargaining for all employees. The real purpose was to insulate collective bargaining agreements from state law oversight. The proposal was overwhelming defeated by the voters. The Michigan legislature is now poised to enact legislation making Michigan a "right to work" state. 

A major problem in any discussion of the issue is one of semantics. The issue really has nothing to do with the ability or right to work. The more accurate phrase is "right to dues" because the ease of collecting union dues and requiring union membership are the real issues. The legislation prohibits the inclusion of union security clauses in collective  bargaining agreements but exempts collective bargaining agreements currently in effect until they expire. The impact of the legislation is to end the automatic deduction of dues from member/employee wages and to give employees the choice to join a union.

While the impact on unions will depend upon when collective bargaining agreements expire, one immediate change will likely be the refocusing on members and local issues. Unions in Michigan will have to market to their members to show the value of membership; the source of dues is no longer automatic.

Lansing is about to become a circus, and the state capitol building will be the big top. Protesters will be in Lansing in force on Tuesday. For many employers, the battle over "right to work" is a distraction from the ongoing difficult task of trying to recover from the Detroit/Michigan depression. The political season in Michigan is not taking a holiday break this year.

For additional Labor and Employment law insights from John Holmquist, visit the Michigan Employment Law Connection.

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