Much to the chagrin of union leaders throughout the state, Michigan became the nation’s 24th state to pass right-to-work laws in 2013. The Michigan right to work law means it’s now illegal to make union membership a mandatory part of employment in the state of Michigan. The law specifically allowed those who were not in long-term contracts to withdraw from labor unions. It also made it illegal for employers to mandate union dues as a condition of employment.
Months later, leaders of the AFL-CIO in Michigan filed a suit to overturn the ruling, stating that the law violated federal laws because the state government does not have the power to regulate private-sector labor unions. On March 31, a federal judge ruled that the state had the power to make union membership optional, essentially saying that people don’t have to pay dues if they don’t want to.
However, the ruling also allowed the state’s AFL-CIO to move forward with other parts of its lawsuit. It named the Employment Relations Committee, Steve Arwood (director of the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs), Attorney General Bill Schuette, and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy as defendants.
The unions contend that Public Act 348 of 2012 violates the U.S. Constitution by allowing state regulators to levy fines and penalties against unions and private-sector employers. This is normally a power afforded only to the federal government, according to the National Labor Relations Act.
Terry Bowman, the founder of Union Conservatives and long-time union member, said he pushed for the Michigan right to work law because he and others were fed up with dues being used to advance political agendas they had no interest in or didn’t believe in. His belief was that the law would make union leaders focus more on negotiations with their workers, as opposed to with politicians.
Michigan workers who had signed contracts before the law took effect on March 28, 2013, are not permitted to opt out of their union dues until their contracts have run out.