Michigan becomes first state in decades to repeal 'right-to-work' law

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Michigan has become the first state in 58 years to repeal a "right-to-work" law. 

The law, passed more than decade ago by a Republican-controlled Legislature, had allowed those in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying union dues and fees. 

"Today, we are coming together to restore workers’ rights, protect Michiganders on the job and grow Michigan’s middle class," Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement after she signed the legislation. 

"Unions made Michigan a hub of American business, and an engine of America’s middle class. A strong middle class benefits everybody," President Biden tweeted in response to the news. "Michigan is leading as a great place to be a worker and a great place to do business."

MICHIGAN HOUSE COMMITTEE APPROVES REPEAL OF STATE'S RIGHT-TO-WORK LAW

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a press conference in Marshall, Michigan, on Feb. 13, 2023, in Romulus, Michigan.  (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The right-to-work law was enacted in 2012 and had long been listed as a priority for Democrats there, who took control of the full state government this year for the first time in 40 years.

They had argued it allowed for "free riders" that received union representation without having to pay fees or dues. Without it, unions can now require all workers in a unionized workplace to pay fees for the cost of representation in bargaining.

Over half of U.S. states now have right-to-work laws in place. 

Indiana had repealed its law in 1965 before Republicans restored it in 2012. 

FILE – Union members and supporters chant in the Capitol rotunda, Tuesday morning, March 14, 2023, as they wait for a right-to-work bill to be voted on.  (Todd McInturf/Detroit News via AP / AP Newsroom)

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Six years ago, Missouri’s Republican Legislature approved a right-to-work law, but it was blocked from going into effect before voter’s overwhelmingly rejected it the next year.

Republicans saw the repeal of the Michigan law will lead to the state becoming less attractive to businesses as well as to forced union membership. 

House Republican leader Matt Hall said in a statement that "businesses will find more competitive states for their manufacturing plants and research and development facilities, and workers and careers will drift away."

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer walks to her seat before the start of a meeting between President Biden and governors visiting from states around the country in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 10, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images / Getty Images)

The legislation Whitmer signed also includes $1 million in appropriations, which Republicans say is to ensure they are "referendum-proof." The Michigan Constitution states bills with appropriations attached to them are not subject to a public referendum in which voters could reject the law.

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Whitmer promised in 2019 to "veto bills designed to cut out the public’s right of referendum."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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