Michigan’s Right To Work Repeal Is a Repeal of Individual Rights

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If right to work laws are so bad than why do their critics have such a hard time talking about what precisely the laws do?  It’s not like the laws are particularly complex or hard to explain. Yet right to work’s critics tend to talk about them in vague, abstract ways. The reason is the laws protect individual workers’ rights in a way that is mighty inconvenient for union leaders. Those leaders have come to rely on laws that compel workers to support unions. Right to work laws prevent that.

Simply put, a right to work laws make it the individual worker’s own choice whether they join or financially support a union. The laws work by limiting management’s right of contract, prohibiting it from signing certain collective bargaining contracts. It is the best way to protect individual workers’ rights under the existing framework of the National Labor Relations Act , which grants unions wide powers to keep workers in line.

Currently 26 states have these laws, down from 27 last week when Michigan amended its state labor law, called Employment Relations Commission Act. Here’s the old version of Michigan law, which was first adopted back in 2013:

An individual shall not be required as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment to do any of the following:  (a) Refrain or resign from membership in, voluntary affiliation with, or voluntary financial support of a labor organization. (b) Become or remain a member of a labor organization. (c) Pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other charges or expenses of any kind or amount or provide anything of value to a labor organization.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a union ally, had that tossed out last week in favor of an amendment stating, “An employer and a labor organization may enter into a collective bargaining agreement that requires all employees in the bargaining unit to share fairly in the financial support of the labor organization.”

Note that the older version was literally about what a worker cannot be forced to do (“an individual shall not be required…”) while amended version is about what workers can be forced to do (“… that requires all employees”). Note also that what the worker is being forced to give up is money out of their own paycheck. In short, Michigan rolled back workers’ rights last week.

Not that you would know this from listening to Whitmer’s comments on the repeal. “Today, we are coming together to restore workers’ rights, protect Michiganders on the job, and grow Michigan’s middle class,” she declared, never once uttering the words “right to work”.

A few others at least acknowledged what was being rolled back but resisted getting into the details. “Right to work has always been wrong for Michigan. I would like to commend and thank the Michigan legislature and Governor Whitmer for doing the right thing for Michigan workers by repealing this anti-worker legislation,” said John Cakmakci, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 951.

Attacking right to work without discussing it is a common tactic. The union-backed nonprofit Economic Policy Institute encouraged lawmakers on Wednesday to pass the recently-reintroduced Protecting the Right to Organize Act. The legislation is a union wishlist that includes a nationwide right to work repeal. Yet that doesn’t come up in the TikTok video EPI produced entitled “5 Reasons Why the Pro-Act is Pro Worker.

There are fair-minded arguments against right to work laws. The laws do make organizing trickier. But those arguments for are about stripping individuals of their rights in favor of the collective good. That shouldn’t be necessary if, as union advocates are so fond of claiming, workers want to join unions.