News Story

Right-to-Work Bill Rejected

14 House Republicans vote "nay"

Despite evidence that a majority of union members support the right of a worker to opt out of union membership and dues, a sizable majority of the Michigan House of Representatives recently rejected an amendment that would have turned Michigan into a right-to-work state.

According to the MIRS Capitol Capsule daily newsletter ( - subscription required), House Bill 4454, introduced by state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, R-Portage, would "give workers in a union shop an opt-out of participating or paying dues to a union." Since it was unlikely that this right-to-work bill would be taken up for consideration by the Democratic majority in the state House, state Rep. Arlan Meekof, R-West Olive, on Sept. 16 sponsored an amendment to tie-bar House Bill 4454 to House Bill 6256.

Attaching a tie-bar would have meant that the latter bill would not become law unless the former one was approved as well. Tie-bars are sometimes used as a means of forcing lawmakers to support legislation that they do not want as a condition of getting votes for bills that they do want.

House Bill 6256 was one bill in a larger package of legislation that would "add a number of requirements for nursing home licensees and applicants for nursing home licenses," according to a House Fiscal Agency memo. The Democratic leadership of the House supported passage of the nursing home bills, while the Health Care Association of Michigan and the Michigan Association of Homes and Services for the Aging both opposed them. and MIRS each note that the bills were introduced after the Service Employees International Union opposed a private equity fund's attempt to purchase 28 Michigan nursing homes.

Rep. Meekof's right-to-work tie-bar was defeated on a vote of 69-35. MIRS noted afterward that "Republicans won a chance to vote on a right to work amendment today, but watched 14 of their colleagues vote against the measure and three others not vote one way or the other." With 56 votes needed for a majority in the 110-member chamber, 14 Republicans joined 55 Democrats in opposition. All 35 votes in favor of the right-to-work tie-bar came from Republicans.

One of the 14 Republican opposition votes, Rep. Brian Palmer, R-Bruce Twp., noted later in the House Journal that he had made a mistake:

"I inadvertently cast a vote opposing this amendment. I am a strong supporter of right-to-work, and giving workers choice, and believe that it is one of the cornerstones for an economic turnaround in Michigan. In fact, I am a co-sponsor of HB 4454, which is the subject of this amendment. I give my sincere apology to the maker of this amendment, and for any inconvenience this may have caused."

A 2007 Mackinac Center for Public Policy report on the potential economic impact of a right-to-work law supports the idea that a right-to-work law would benefit the state. Authored by Paul Kersey, the Center's director of labor policy, the report revealed a strong correlation between right-to-work protections and several measures of prosperity. It examines the five-year period between 2001 and 2006 and finds that the average increase in gross state product for right-to-work states was 18.1 percent. The GSP growth over the same years for non-right-to-work states was 13.6 percent, and for Michigan just 3.4 percent. 

Likewise, employment growth for the average right-to-work state during the period was 6.4 percent, compared to just 2.9 percent for non-right-to-work states and an employment decline of 4.8 percent for Michigan.

Along with this contracting employment, the report also observes that Michigan's wages have been declining relative to the right-to-work states. The per-capita disposable personal income of five right-to-work states — Florida, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas — passed that of Michigan during the 2001 through 2006 period. If this pace of decline relative to the right-to-work states continues, Kersey projects that by 2010 the average Michigan resident could also have less disposable income than their fellow Americans in Alabama, Iowa, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee — all right-to-work states.

Kersey's report is an update on a study done for the Center in 2002 by Dr. William T. Wilson. Wilson examined the period between 1970 and 2000 and found similar trends.

Despite the rejection of a right-to-work law in the Michigan House, public opinion surveys continue to show support for the policy change. A 2002 survey of Michigan voters found a 62 to 22 percent advantage in favor of implementing a statewide right-to-work law. More recently, and tellingly, a 2004 nationwide survey of 703 self-identified union members done by Zogby International revealed that 63 percent believed it was "unfair for a worker to lose their job if he or she refuses to pay dues to, or support, a union." 

The vote tally for Rep. Meekof's right-to-work amendment is below. Contact information can be found here.

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Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.