Could right-to-work be repealed in Michigan after Democrats take control?

Posted at 1:56 PM, Nov 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-11 18:03:39-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — This was the scene in 2012 when Republicans controlled both the Michigan legislature and the governor’s office.

Union members stormed the state capitol building protesting the passage of right-to-work without a hearing during a lame duck session.

Then-Republican Governor Rick Snyder signed it into law.

"Right-to-work is about the relationship between the union and workers. This is about giving workers a choice," said Rick Snyder, former Michigan Governor.

Now power has shifted.

Voters gave Democrats control of the legislature and governor’s office.

"We are feeling damn good about where we are headed," said Governor Gretchen Whitmer, D-Michigan.

Democratic State Senator Dayna Polehanki says expect change.

"Right-to-work. The union busting law. We will repeal that," said State Senator Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia.

So what would this change mean?

Before right-to-work, if you took a unionized negotiated position at a place, like Ford, you had to join the UAW and pay dues.

After right-to-work, workers could choose to take a union negotiated job and instead of paying a union like the UAW, they can now keep that money in their wallet.

It did have an impact.

We charted Michigan’s union membership rates with Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

After right-to-work passed in 2012, union membership fell dramatically in Michigan hitting a new low last year of 13.3%.

Right-to-work supporters say that isn’t a bad thing.

They say it makes Michigan more attractive for businesses and as Republican State Senator Jim Runestad argues — empowers workers.

"I think you shouldn’t be forced to join a union. If you go to work for a company. That should be your option as it is now. The union should earn that trust in order to join the union," said State Senator Jim Runestad, R-White Lake.

"You can have a choice to not work in a union location," Runestad added.

Brandi Mullen protested right-to-work back in 2012.

At the time she was a union janitor at the Ren Cen.

Now, she is state director of SEIU Local 1.

She argues union solidarity is what truly empowers workers, resulting in higher pay and benefits.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says non union workers in 2021 earned a median weekly pay of $975. 83% of the $1169 union workers took home.

She says right-to-work busts solidarity.

"Things shifted in 2013. It was difficult. It was like night and day," said Brandice Mullen, Director, Local 1 SEIU. "What do you say to someone who says, like you said, some of the baristas don’t want to join a union, why should they not have the right to opt out."

Mullen added, "I totally get it. If I am not going to be there for very long, I probably wouldn’t want to either. I can understand why people feel that way, but ultimately it does help a lot more people other than just yourself."

A National Labor Relations Board judge ruled last month Starbucks illegally fired Hannah Whitbeck for trying to organize a union at an Ann Arbor store.

She is now in the process of being reinstated at work.

She says she learned right-to-work laws make it harder to unionize.

"I am hoping with this being taken away it can strengthen solidarity not just for Starbucks workers, but for anybody in a union," said Hannah Whitbeck, union organizer.