Labor

Governor Whitmer Signs Historic Workers’ Rights Bills Into Law in Michigan

Gretchen Whitmer
“Michigan Senator Gretchen Whitmer Speaks at the 2013 Michigan Women in Municipal Government Breakfast” by Michigan Municipal League (MML) is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Workers’ rights advocates in Michigan on Friday applauded as Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a repeal of the state’s so-called “right-to-work” law and restored the prevailing wage standard for state-funded construction projects.

The new laws make Michigan the first state to roll back anti-union right-to-work laws, which bar unions from requiring that all workers in unionized jobs pay dues, in nearly six decades.

“It feels great to be a Michigander today,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “Any day that the corporate interests and lobbyists in Lansing fail is a day that deserves special recognition. It’s refreshing to see workers get the recognition and rights they deserve after years of Republicans doing everything they could to undermine unions and the ability to organize in the workplace.”

In a statement, Whitmer’s office pointed to research from the Economic Policy Institute that showed people living in states without right-to-work laws are paid $1,600 more per year on average and have higher rates of insurance coverage than workers in states with anti-union rules. States without the anti-worker laws also have lower rates of workplace deaths.

“Today, we are coming together to restore workers’ rights, protect Michiganders on the job, and grow Michigan’s middle class,” saidWhitmer. “Michigan workers are the most talented and hard-working in the world and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

The passage of Michigan’s right-to-work law in 2012 provoked outcry and drew labor advocates from across the county to Lansing to rally against the law.

As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, many of the workers and supporters who protested over a decade ago were at the state Capitol when lawmakers passed the legislation repealing the law and restoring the prevailing wage, which requires that construction contractors pay union wages and benefits.

“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 the MIchigan AFL-CIO. “Ten years ago, Gov. Whitmer was standing side by side with well over 10,000 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,” he added, “it’s a new day in Michigan, and the future is bright.”

Twenty-six other states have right-to-work laws in place, threatening unions’ ability to operate as they limit the membership dues they can collect from the workers they represent.

“Now that workers’ rights have been restored,” said Janella James, executive director of the Michigan Nurses Association, “Michigan is once again leading the way for the country in showing what is possible when working families are put first.”

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