Whitmer signs referendum-proof right-to-work repeal

Whitmer violates own directive in signing bill with appropriation attached, to put it beyond the voice of voters

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday signed House Bill 4004, a repeal of Michigan’s right-to-work law for public sector workers, into law.

That part is not a surprise.

But for Whitmer to sign a policy-focused bill with a $1 million appropriation attached, thus rendering it ineligible for a voter referendum, she had to violate her own 2019 executive directive disavowing the tactic.

For a decade, Michigan Democrats, Whitmer top among them, bewailed that tactic. Now it appears their only objection was being on the wrong side of it.

Whitmer was in the minority in Lansing in 2012 when then-Gov. Rick Snyder signed right-to-work into law. For a decade, Democrats vowed to repeal the law when they got the chance.

In the November election, Michigan Democrats kept the governor’s office, and won control of the House and the Senate, giving them all the gavels in 2023. Right-to-work was one of their top targets.

Two things that irked Democrats about the 2012 law is that Snyder had said right-to-work was “not on my agenda” before signing the bill. Snyder justified his change by saying unions crossed a line by pursuing a failed state constitutional amendment to outlaw right-to-work. Voters rejected that effort roundly.

But Republicans added an appropriation to the bill to make it ineligible for a popular repeal, by way of a voter referendum. There was always the option for another constitutional question, but it never materialized. Instead, a decade later, the Democrats simply won the majority back.

Whitmer was angered by the appropriation tactic, and in 2019 signed an executive directive stating her intention to veto any bill that used it. She faced a test early on, when a $10 million appropriation was attached to a bill related to wrongful imprisonment. Whitmer felt the appropriation was inappropriate, even when she supported the underlying cause, and vetoed that line item from the bill.

Whitmer did not exercise her line-item veto on House Bill 4004, however. She signed it as-is, including the $1 million appropriation that makes it ineligible for a referendum of Michigan voters.

Even though Whitmer signed House Bill 4004, public sector employees such as teachers still cannot be forced to pay unions. A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME held that public sector workers have a First Amendment right not to pay union dues or fees.

“Some of our state elected officials have made it resoundingly clear that they are willing to sacrifice many to serve a few,” said Mackinac Center President Joseph G. Lehman in a statement. “That may be politics, but it is not leadership.”

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.