Michigan became the first state to repeal a right-to-work law in nearly 60 years when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill on March 24 that was passed by the state’s House and Senate earlier in the month.

Michigan Governor, Gretchen Whitmer

The move was a major victory for the IBEW and all unions, who have fought against such laws since 1947, when a conservative Congress passed a federal law that allowed them. They allow workers to free-ride, enjoying the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement without paying dues and fees to contribute to its enforcement.

Supporters of such laws paint them as giving employees a choice, but they are intended to suppress the power of working families, not to mention their wages and benefits.

“Today, we are coming together to restore workers’ rights, protect Michiganders on the job, and grow Michigan’s middle class,” Whitmer said in a statement.

Michigan is the first state to repeal such a law since 1965, when Indiana did so, although it passed a new one in 2012 that remains in effect. The only other state to repeal a right-to-work law was New Hampshire in 1949. There are now 26 states with such a law.

Whitmer also signed into law a bill that reinstitutes prevailing wage laws on public projects in the state. Prevailing wage laws and project labor agreements require wages to be paid at fair market value, whether the work is done by union or nonunion workers. They also ensure work the work is high quality, done on time and often by local contractors.

“What an absolutely great day for the IBEW and especially our members in Michigan,” International President Kenneth W. Cooper said. “I wish I could personally thank each and every one of them who worked to make this a reality. I salute the state legislators who stood with us and especially Gov. Whitmer, who has been a friend of working families ever since she was elected.

“But this is just a beginning. The support for unions and the fight for working families is stronger than ever and we’re looking for the next state where we can repeal right-to-work.”

Union members, including from the IBEW, packed the state capitol in Lansing during the House and Senate votes and also during committee hearings. They also volunteered to get Whitmer reelected and flip the Legislature to Democratic control last November.

“It’s a new day here in Lansing,” Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks told the Associated Press. “It’s time once again to make Michigan known as a place where workers want to come.”

Republicans controlled the Michigan Legislature and the state had a Republican Gov. in Rick Snyder when right-to-work was passed into law in 2012 and when prevailing wage laws were repealed in 2018.

Now, Democrats control the statehouse and the governor’s mansion in Michigan for the first time since 1984.

“We’re ecstatic and excited Gov. Whitmer and the Legislature reversed what Gov. Snyder and his group of folks did and returned Michigan back to the workers’ rights state it’s always been,” said Sixth District International Vice President Michael Clemmons, whose district includes Michigan.

“It’s been a long, hard fight. The IBEW pours a lot of time and resources into political races and this is a prime example of why we do that. When you elect pro-worker politicians, this is what happens.”

For IBEW members in Michigan employed in construction, the reinstitution of prevailing wage laws is as significant as the right-to-work repeal, Clemmons said.

“Enacting prevailing wage ensures our members are paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work,” he said. “It stops the trend of trying to force wages and benefits downwards by some of our construction competitors.
“You look at states that have prevailing wage laws and they have higher wages and benefits for construction workers. That is taxpayer money. When you use taxpayer money on a project, it should go to a Michigander.”

Many Democratic leaders in Michigan pledged to repeal right-to-work and reinstitute prevailing wage if they gained control of the Legislature.

“No one should be surprised that we are in this moment,” Whitmer said in an interview with the New York Times. “We’ve done what we’ve said we were going to do, and we’re going to continue to live up to the promise we made to people and live our values.”

Like Cooper, Clemmons also thanked all IBEW members for their work in getting the bills passed into law. They’ve earned the right to celebrate.

But the battles will go on, he said.

“It is imperative we keep our majorities in Michigan,” Clemmons said. “We see what happens when we do. We have a huge victory today but have to ensure those majorities in the legislature and keeping the governor’s mansion going forward.”