Michigan House approves repeal of state right-to-work law

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s Democratic-led House of Representatives approved legislation Wednesday that would repeal the state’s “right-to-work” law passed more than a decade ago when Republicans controlled Congress.

Overturning the law that prohibits public and private unions from requiring non-union employees to pay dues even if the union is bargaining on their behalf has been a top priority for Democrats since they took full control of state government this year .

“This bill is not about making history. This is about restoring the rights of the workers whose work we have all benefited from,” Congressman Jim Haadsma, D-Battle Creek, said on the floor before the vote.

Repeal supporters who poured into the gallery above the House floor cheered loudly as the legislation passed along party lines late Wednesday. Legislation restoring the state’s prevailing wage law, which requires contractors hired on state projects to pay union-level wages, was also approved by the House.

Both bills will have to pass the state Senate before being sent to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for final approval.

Appropriations of $1 million were attached to the two bills ahead of the House vote, which Republican House Leader Matt Hall said would make them “referendum-proof.” Michigan law says the “power of referendums” does not extend to bills with appropriations attached.

Whitmer previously wrote in a government accountability plan that if “the appropriations bill has a dollar amount added to it to circumvent the people’s right to a referendum,” she would veto it.

The House Labor Committee advanced the repeal, in addition to legislation that would restore the state’s prevailing wage law, early Wednesday as supporters and opponents of the bills packed the committee’s main chamber and three overflow areas. The committee allowed just over an hour of testimony, mostly from repeal supporters, before voting to move the bills forward.

“We don’t want the government telling two private parties what they can agree to in negotiations,” said Jonathan Byrd, president of the South Central Michigan AFL-CIO. “That’s what right-to-work does.”

Whitmer praised the commission for putting “Michigan workers first,” saying in a statement that “working people should always have basic freedoms in the workplace without government interference.”

House Republicans argued in committee that the public showed its support for right-to-work when voters rejected a 2012 constitutional amendment intended to protect the right to organize and bargain collectively. They also complained that the bills were being rushed through and that more debate was needed.

Haadsma, who chairs the House Labor Committee, said the committee “had to get this done today so we can get it done by spring break,” referring to the legislature’s two-week recess that begins March 23.

When the Legislature passed right-to-work legislation in 2012, thousands of union supporters descended on the Capitol to protest. The law dealt a devastating blow to organized labor in a state that has played an important role in the growth of the U.S. labor movement, even as unions have lost significant power in the region over the past decade.

A year earlier, neighboring Wisconsin, under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, proposed but did not end collective bargaining for most public workers. It sparked weeks of protests that swelled to 100,000 people and prompted Democratic senators to walk out of the state in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the bill from passing.

Four years later, after saying he would not pursue union rights for private sector workers, Walker signed a right-to-work law for Wisconsin.


Associated Press writer Scott Bauer in Madison, Wis., contributed to this report.

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