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Democrats eye right-to-work repeal, critics warn of consequences

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation on Tuesday creating harsher penalties for doctors, parents and others convicted of female genital mutilation. Above, the state Capitol in Lansing in 2012.
Carlos Osorio

After one week of session, Democratic state lawmakers are already taking steps to repeal Michigan’s “right to work” law.

“Right to work” bans making the payment of some union fees a condition of employment. It was a major Republican priority at the time.

Democratic Senator Darrin Camilleri is a repeal sponsor. He says it’s about everyone paying their fair share for negotiated benefits.

“So that when a union is doing their work on behalf of the entire workforce at a factory that everybody is benefiting from, that the union is also getting fair representation," Camilleri said.

Camilleri says he expects “a lot of money” to get involved in this fight.

"The reason that this right-to-work law was instituted in the first place was to undercut the power of working people, to make it harder for unions to be formed and unions to stay organized," Camilleri said. "Because when unions are organized, workers can fight for good wages, good health care, good benefits, and safe workplaces."

But critics argue only a fraction of union fees go toward bargaining. Jarrett Skorup is with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

“Most of the time, unions want workers to pay the full cost of dues," Skorup said. "So they want to pay for all the other activity, which is the political activity, which is the salaries and benefits of all the union employees."

Skorup also says there are better solutions than repealing “right to work.”

"We would be supportive of a law that says you can opt out of union membership, and you can opt out of the contract," Skorup said. "But unions oppose that. They want people to be, whether members or not, to be forced to contribute to the union."

Supporters of the repeal argue allowing for more independent contract negotiations would overcomplicate things.

Other critics say the U-S Supreme Court already banned forcing public employees to pay dues, so the repeal would only affect private sector workers. They also claim ending “right to work” would discourage manufacturing investment in Michigan.

Only two states have taken a "right to work" law off the books in the last 60 years.