Thousands of workers protest right-to-work on the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich. | Carlos Osorio / AP
Originally published in the People’s World, March 16, 2023
LANSING, Mich.—Michigan’s pro-worker Democratic sweep last November swept out the Wolverine State’s corporate Republican-passed right-to-work (for less) laws in March.
Democratic legislative leaders, who took “trifecta” power in the election, made RTW repeal their #1 priority and won it 56-53 in the state House and 20-17 in the Senate on party-line votes.
Then lawmakers, also on party-line votes, restored project labor agreements, too.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), whose landslide win over a Trumpite foe produced the coattails that created the first completely Democratic control in Lansing in decades, is expected to sign both measures. The RTW repeal would be the first in a state in 60 years.
Workers jammed the capitol rotunda in Lansing before the House votes, chanting “We are union, the mighty, mighty union,” and erupted into a minute-and-a-half of constant cheers, raised fists, and whoops in a corridor outside the state Senate chamber after the votes there.
Right-to-work is a favorite Republican, radical right, and corporate cause, which seeks to strip workers and their unions of money and political power. PLAs set up both deadlines and worker protections on construction projects. Banning them is the top goal of the anti-worker Associated Builders and Contractors, an ersatz “grassroots” association of cut-rate non-union contractors.
Started in the 1940s as a racist way to divide white from Black workers in the South, right-to-work spread to Michigan in 2012 after the 2010 Republican legislative sweep there and elsewhere. Given unions’ prominent role in Michigan, the RTW win particularly hurt there.
So its repeal was especially gratifying to the state AFL-CIO and Michigan workers. And just to make sure the repeal sticks, lawmakers added some unrelated appropriations for education programs. Laws with money in them can’t be pushed into referendums. Others can.
“Today, our pro-worker Democratic majority in the state House took historic action to undo the devastation caused by decades of attacks on workers’ freedom,” state AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said after House passage.
“Since 2012, thousands of Michigan workers, labor leaders, and organizers across the state have been mobilizing and laying the groundwork for this moment. We applaud the House’s swift action to undo the damage caused by Betsy DeVos”—a major Republican campaign cash contributor who became Donald Trump’s Education Secretary—and Republican Govs. “John Engler, Rick Snyder, and their worker suppression agendas.
“Our legislative leaders are delivering on the promises they made and putting power back into the hands of Michigan workers.”
“What choice do you have when the greedy corporations try to put employees against one another in a race to the bottom?” House Majority Leader Abraham Alyash, D-Hamtramck, asked his colleagues.
“Why do folks in here sometimes get so angry that we’re trying to push people out of poverty?”
“Union dues are an important stream of revenue that help pay for critical contract negotiations, staff, and support of members,” said Rep. Regina Weiss, D-Detroit, sponsor of RTW repeal. “When unions have decreased dues, they have less power to improve working conditions.”
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).