Dec 11 Michigan's state legislature approved on
Tuesday two new laws making it a so-called right-to-work state
where it would be against the law for a union to require all
employees to join and pay dues as a condition of employment. The
measures passed despite protests from thousands of unionized
workers, and Republican Governor Rick Snyder has vowed to sign
them into law.
Here are some key facts about Michigan and right-to-work:
** Michigan would be 24th of the 50 U.S. states to pass laws
making it right-to-work, and the second in the industrial
heartland of the country after Indiana passed such legislation
earlier in 2012. Most other right-to-work states are in the
South and Plains regions. The Northeast and coastal West are the
regions where union rights are strongest.
** Right-to-work is generally defined as a state where it is
against the law for a union to be a so-called "closed shop,"
requiring all employees to join a union and pay dues. The
Michigan laws would make membership in a union and payment of
dues voluntary and would cover both the private and public
sector, except for fire and police unions. Supporters of
right-to-work say such laws attract business, encourage
investment and allow workers to choose whether they want to join
a union. Critics say they suppress wages, weaken the collective
bargaining authority of unions and leave workers at the mercy of
employers in negotiations over pay, benefits and working
** The laws passed by Republicans in Michigan last week
would exempt existing contracts between employers and unions
until they expire, such as the automakers' contract with the
United Auto Workers union, which expires in 2015. The so-called
grandfather clause would soften the impact of the new law
initially, although over time contracts would be subject to
** Michigan is a stronghold of the union movement in the
United States. Some 671,000 workers, or 17.5 percent, were
members of unions in Michigan in 2011. This was the fifth-
highest percentage among states after New York, Hawaii, Alaska
and Washington, and the highest in the Midwest industrial
heartland. After a seven-year slide, Michigan's union membership
increased slightly in 2011 from the previous year.
** The symbolism of turning Michigan into a right-to-work
state is strong because it is the home of the U.S. auto industry
and the place where autoworkers first began to demand better
wages and working conditions in the assembly line automotive
plants built by industrial barons such as Henry Ford in the
1920s. On March 7, 1932, thousands of people marched on Ford's
Dearborn, Michigan, plant to demand jobs. Police and security
forces employed by Ford fired on the crowd. Five protesters died
and scores were injured. The confrontation increased sympathy
for workers and led to the formation of the United Auto Workers
** Michigan has 698 automaker assembly plants, parts plants,
and auto-parts supplier plants, more than any other state,
according to Elm Analytics, which tracks data on the industry.
Michigan accounted for about 18 percent of the 776,000
people employed in motor vehicles and parts manufacturing in the
United States as of October 2012.
The headquarters of General Motors Co., Ford Motor
Co. and Chrysler are located in the Detroit area.
** Democrats and unions already are planning to challenge
the state laws in court. Political sources said any challenge
could cite federal law guaranteeing the right to collective
bargaining, although such attempts to challenge the laws of
other states in court using federal law have failed in the past.
** Republicans supporting right-to-work inserted in the laws
allocations of money to cover implementation. Under the
Michigan constitution any law that includes such an allocation
of money cannot be challenged by referendum. This will make it
harder for Democrats and unions to overturn the law, although
political sources said they may try to skirt this by drafting a
ballot initiative that would supersede the new laws.
Michigan voters in the November election rejected 57 percent
to 43 percent a ballot initiative to enshrine in the state
constitution the right to collective bargaining. The ballot
initiative had been backed by labor unions. Its defeat may have
emboldened Republicans to pursue right-to-work in the state,
some political sources have said.
** Opponents also could try to force recall elections of
Republican lawmakers who voted for the laws, or of Republican
Governor Rick Snyder. This was tried during a bitter battle over
union rights in Wisconsin over the last two years with mixed
results. Some Republican state Senators were recalled in
Wisconsin for voting to curb union power, but Republican
Governor Scott Walker survived a recall effort against him.
** The right-to-work drive in Michigan is the latest of a
series of setbacks for labor unions in the United States,
beginning in 2011, when Wisconsin's Walker pushed through the
legislature limits on public sector unions such as teachers. The
Wisconsin limits on unions are on hold while the issue is
challenged in court. Earlier this year, Indiana passed
right-to-work legislation and two cities in California voted to
curb the pensions of public sector workers. Several other states
and local governments have either made cuts or are considering
cuts to the pensions of public sector workers because of
One recent victory for unions was in Ohio, where in November
2011, voters overturned a Republican-led effort to place
restrictions on public sector unions, similar to that in
SOURCES: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Thomson Reuters, United
Auto Workers website, Michigan Secretary of State website, text
of Michigan right-to-work proposed laws, Elm Analytics.
(Compiled by Greg McCune; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)