News Story

Right-To-Work Repeal Bill Denies Government Workers’ Civil Rights

Michigan Dem’s legislation appears to defy US Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus ruling

Among the first bills introduced in the new Michigan Legislature are two sponsored by Democratic lawmakers that would essentially repeal the Michigan right-to-work law enacted in 2012.

One of the bills specifically targets public employees, however, which, if enacted, would appear to directly violate a June 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In Janus v. AFSCME, the court held that forcing government employees to pay dues or fees to a union violates these workers’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association. Yet this is precisely what Michigan House Bill 4033 proposes to do.

The bill was introduced on Jan. 15 by Rep. John Chirkun, D-Roseville, and amends a state law that governs public sector labor issues. It would authorize public employers, including the state, local governments and public schools, to enter union labor contracts that require public employees to make a payment, called “service fee,” to a union. Giving financial support would become a compulsory condition of employment for these workers, in direct conflict with the Supreme Court’s Janus decision.

The other bill in the package, House Bill 4034, was sponsored by Rep. Brian Elder, D-Bay City. It would amend the Michigan labor law that governs private sector workplaces, by deleting the right-to-work provision that prohibits employers and unions from entering into contracts that force workers to financially support the union as a condition of employment. This would not contradict the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling, which only applies to government workers.

According to Elder and Chirkun, their bills would address complaints that workers who refuse to financially support the union are “free riders,” who get the benefits of union representation without having to pay their fair share of the cost.

“It is time for us to unrig the rules against working families once and for all to protect their freedoms as Michiganders to stand together in a union,” Chirkun said in an announcement that the two bills had been introduced.

Ongoing research by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy has tallied the growing number of public employees who have opted out paying union fees since the passage of right-to-work in the state. Many of Michigan's government unions have seen double-digit declines in fee-paying employees. For example, the Michigan State Employees Association and SEIU Local 517M saw 20 percent drops.

Among other things, declining revenue affects the union’s ability to engage in political activism. Economist James T. Bennett wrote a widely cited study that unions use membership fee revenue to boost their political clout in Washington D.C. and in state capitols across the country. Bennett’s 1991 study in the Journal of Labor Research contributed to the case in favor of right-to-work laws, given that a substantial number of unionized workers do not share their unions’ political preferences.

“Right-to-work has been great for Michigan, and any politicians who want to take it away are setting themselves up for punishment at the ballot box,” said Greg Mourad, vice president for legislation for the National Right to Work Committee.

Both HB 4033 and HB 4034 have been referred to the House Committee on Government Operations.

Tony Daunt, executive director of the nonprofit Michigan Freedom Fund, said the bills have little hope of becoming law.

“Thankfully, this proposal has no chance of passage because both Majority Leader Shirkey and Speaker Chatfield understand the importance of protecting the First Amendment rights of all Michiganders, along with the economic recovery that Republicans have worked so hard to secure the past eight years,” Daunt said in an email. “Sadly, it’s clear that Michigan Democrats prefer to do the bidding of their radical union leaders rather than standing up for the free association rights of workers.”