Workers praise Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for signing Repeal of GOP Union-Busting ‘Right to Work’ Law

By: Laina G. Stebbins – 

( Michigan Advance ) – Unions and other pro-labor groups on Friday celebrated the signing of a set of bills to reverse GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder-era laws that have curtailed union power and pushed down wages.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday afternoon signed House Bills 4004 and 4007 and Senate Bill 34. HB 4004 repeals Right to Work for public-sector employees, while SB 34 does the same for private-sector workers. HB 4007 restores the practice of prevailing wage into law.Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a rally in support of gun safety legislation with former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords on March 15, 2023. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

“These bills will protect health and safety, ensuring healthcare workers can put patient care ahead of profit, construction workers can speak up when there’s a safety issue, and employees can call attention to food safety threats and other problems,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Let’s continue delivering for working people and ensuring Michigan is open for business.”

With her signature, Michigan is now the first state in nearly 60 years to repeal any Right to Work laws. The 2012 laws, which were highly controversial, allowed workers to get all union benefits without having to pay dues.

Its passage in the GOP-led Legislature drew a crowd of roughly 12,000 protesters. It also contained an appropriation, rendering citizens unable to repeal it.

In 2018, the GOP-led Legislature also approved an initiative repealing prevailing wage for contracted workers on state projects.

Both policies have been a major target for Democrats, who have gained control of the Michigan Legislature for the first time in decades. 

“After decades of anti-worker attacks, Michigan has restored the balance of power for working people by passing laws to protect their freedom to bargain for the good wages, good benefits, and safe workplaces they deserve,” said Ron Bieber, president of Michigan AFL-CIO.

“Ten years ago, Governor Whitmer was standing side by side with well over ten thousand working people who showed up in Lansing to protest the devastating attack on their rights. Today, she has demonstrated yet again her unwavering commitment to putting working families first. After decades of attacks on working people, it’s a new day in Michigan, and the future is bright.”

Republicans and some business groups, like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, opposed their repeals.

Union members and supporters rally in solidarity with striking Kellogg workers at Festival Market Square in Battle Creek, Dec. 17, 2021 | Laina G. Stebbins

Gov. Whitmer and Democrats have hurt Michigan’s ability to compete to attract high-paying careers,” said House Minority Leader Matt Hall. (R-Richland Twp.). Their pay cut plan has repealed our right-to-work law, forcing unionization on Michigan workers and taking the fruits of their labor. Without right-to-work, businesses will find more competitive states for their manufacturing plants and research and development facilities, and workers and careers will drift away. To add economic insult to injury, the Democrats’ prevailing wage law will expose small businesses in our communities to frivolous legal harassment from competitors and activists.

Other groups praising the RTW repeal and prevailing wage enactment Friday include SEIU Michigan, Michigan Nurses Association (MNA), Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, AFSCME Council 25, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 951, Upper Peninsula Regional Labor Federation and Michigan United.

“This is a historic day for Michigan’s working families. For more than a decade, working Michiganders — predominantly Black and brown — have fought the unjust right to work law,” said SEIU Local 1 President Genie Kastrup.

“With this harmful law being repealed, working people will be able to build a stronger worker-led union, and win higher wages and better benefits. SEIU Local 1 working families have fought long and hard to raise the labor standard in Michigan and build a state that works for all of us — this is a great leap in the right direction.”

Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.

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