News Story

Federal Bill Would Force Tens of Thousands in Michigan Back Into Unions

You’ll have to pay union dues as a condition of employment in many workplaces (government workers excepted)

The right of private sector employees not to be forced into paying a union as condition of employment could be wiped away in Michigan and 26 other states by massive changes in federal law proposed by Democrats in Congress.

Given Democratic control of Congress and the White House, passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act is a real possibility that would render Michigan’s right-to-work law, adopted in 2012, a nullity.

That would mean thousands of Michiganders in unionized private sector workplaces — who have not been forced to pay union dues or fees since Michigan’s right-to-work went into effect — would once again be required to pay unions as a condition of employment.

National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix called the legislation “a virtual smorgasbord of big labor power and privilege.”

“It means you gotta pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment or be fired,” Mix said.

Not government workers though. Importantly, none of this would apply to public sector employees, who are protected from compulsory union due payments by the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The court held that when the employer is a unit of government, requiring its employees to pay dues or fees to a union violates their First Amendment rights to free speech and free association.

Should a future court reverse Janus, however, public sector workers could again be required to pay the union as a condition of employment.

The measure is co-sponsored by all seven Democratic members of Michigan’s House delegation and supported by its two Democratic senators.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement: “The PRO Act will strengthen workers’ ability to come together and demand a fair share of the wealth we create — boosting wages, securing better health care and rooting out discrimination. It’s time for the party of FDR to finish what he started.”

Indeed, Mix said, the PRO Act is the most audacious attempt by big labor to transform the labor legal landscape and deliver money and power to labor bosses in more than a half century.

“It would be devastating for employees who have exercised the right to not belong to an organization they do not support,” he said. “Right to work is the one thing employees have to hold their unions accountable.”

According to a fact sheet from the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, the PRO Act would merely eliminate the so-called free rider option for workers who decline to financially support a union while deriving benefits from union representation.

Passage of the PRO Act is believed to be a foregone conclusion in the U.S. House, where a nearly identical measure was approved in 2020. Prospects in the Senate, split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, are less certain, unless filibuster rules are amended or the measure is somehow tied to the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process, possibilities Mix said have been raised by pro-labor interests.

That is not the case for a bill introduced in the Michigan House on Feb. 9, which would repeal the Michigan right-to-work law enacted in 2012. House Bill 4175 is sponsored by 48 of the 52 members of the House Democratic caucus, but is certain not to pass in either the Republican-controlled House or Senate. If it did become law in a future legislature and Michigan's right-to-work law was repealed, the proposed federal law would have no effect here - workers in unionized workplaces would have to pay the union either way.

The number of Michiganders who have opted out of compulsory union support is not readily available. But an analysis by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in 2020 found that among the state’s largest public and private sector unions, membership had declined by 18% overall since passage of right-to-work.

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.