In victory for labor unions, Michigan governor repeals ‘right-to-work’ law

By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) – Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Friday signed a package of bills repealing the state’s so-called “right to work” law that allowed workers to opt out of unions, a long-sought victory for labor organizers facing an era of diminished power.

Whitmer became the first governor since the 1960s to roll back right-to-work legislation. Twenty-six other U.S. states and the territory of Guam still have right-to-work laws on the books, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Michigan workers are the most talented and hard-working in the world and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” Whitmer, a two-term Democrat, said in a statement.

Michigan House Bills 4004 and 4007 and Senate Bill 34 passed the Democratic-controlled state legislature earlier this month. House Bill 4007 requires that contractors hired by the state pay a so-called prevailing wage, the amount used when hiring union workers.

The Michigan state legislature, controlled at the time by Republicans, in 2012 passed a right-to-work law over the objections of union activists. It was signed into law by then-Governor Rick Snyder, also a Republican.

Republicans opposed repealing that law this year, arguing that it would hurt businesses and make the state less attractive to companies.

Union membership has declined sharply in the United States since its peak in the 1950s, when more than a third of workers belonged to a union.

Membership dropped to an all-time low of 10.1% in 2022 despite a surge in organizing during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data released in January by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Grant McCool)