Last month, Michigan's new right-to-work (RTW) laws became effective. Since December 6, 2012 - the date the legislation was introduced and passed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Republican legislative leaders - at least three lawsuits have been filed challenging the new laws.
Michigan's right-to-work law
Right-to-work laws prohibit labor unions from negotiating public and private employee contracts that charge union dues or fees as a condition of employment. With the passage of the bills, Michigan became the 24th state to pass right-to-work laws.
Proponents of RTW laws claim that Michigan workers will no longer feel they need to join a union in order to have their rights protected and that employees may now move freely from employer to employer. They argue further that it will improve the business climate in Michigan. However, there is no hard evidence to prove this assumption.
Opponents of the laws point out that unions provide invaluable services to thousands of Michigan workers and are necessary to protect employee rights. Evidence exists showing that RTW causes lower wages - about $1,500 per year, per employee - and poor social services. Labor unions provide assistance to employees by:
- Creating a unified front against disputes with employers
- Protecting workers from wrongful acts by management
- Forcing compliance with arbitration provisions
- Enforcing collective bargaining agreements and arbitration awards
RTW law was passed in a lame duck session by Republican legislators who were inspired by employer-financed operations. The purpose of the law is to weaken unions so that they cannot defend the rights of working Michigan people. Weakening unions means more profits for employers in the private sector and more unaccountable actions by public officials in the public center.
Challenges to the law
A number of labor unions, the Michigan Education Association and some state lawmakers have opposed the right-to-work legislation, claiming that it was approved in violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act. On the day that the legislation was introduced and passed, a number of people were locked out of the hearing, including two state representatives and one state senator. Normal committee hearings allegedly were not held and legislators who were opposed to the legislation were given only a few hours to review the proposed bills before they went to hearing.
A second lawsuit claims that the law should not apply to state workers. A coalition of five state worker unions brought the lawsuit and there are over 30,000 unionized state employees in Michigan. A third lawsuit claims that the laws conflict with federal labor laws and are, thus, unconstitutional.
Seek legal help
As a Michigan worker, you have a number of rights that must never be violated. If you believe you are suffering from discrimination or harassment in the workplace, seek the advice of an experienced employment law attorney.
Labor unions provide many benefits to employees and should be allowed to operate on behalf of the workers they represent. If they are facing opposition from an employer who is denying rights to their employees, a lawyer knowledgeable about labor law litigation can help.