Vice President, Labor Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
March 22, 2023
The state of Michigan is poised to repeal its right-to-work law, which has been in effect for 10 years, making it the first state legislature to do so in decades. The Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill on March 8 to that end, and the Senate followed suit on March 14. The bill returned to both bodies’ respective labor committees for technical revisions, but for all intents and purposes, the repeal is a foregone conclusion. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has reportedly stated that she will sign the bill when it reaches her desk, and assuming she does, it will become law 90 days after the end of the current legislative session.
A majority of states (27) maintain right-to-work statutes, and Michigan has benefited from its law since it took effect in 2013. Despite frivolous claims to the contrary, being a right-to-work state makes Michigan (for now) and the others more competitive with neighboring states and nationally. According to a report commissioned by the U.S. Chamber to evaluate the economic evidence about right-to-work (RTW) laws, “[t]here is a large body of rigorous economic research on the effects of RTW laws on economic performance. Overall, that research suggests that RTW laws have a positive impact on economic growth, employment, investment, and innovation, both directly and indirectly.”
The economic evidence over the last decade does seem to affirm that observation, and the results are rather dramatic. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis, reveal that Michigan’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew from $398.9 billion at the beginning of 2005 to $438.7 billion in the third quarter of 2013, about a 10% increase. From the same period in 2013 to the third quarter of 2022 GDP grew from $433.7 billion to $626.7 billion, a whopping 43% increase.
Of course, right-to-work does not explain all that growth, but it underscores the point that having a right-to-work statute contributes to an overall positive business climate. Right-to-work has helped Michigan compete for much-needed economic development projects and new jobs.
Put simply, right-to-work often factors positively when companies are choosing between a site in a right-to-work state and a state without that policy. Repealing right-to-work represents a step backward for Michigan that will make it less competitive.
Unfortunately, the Michigan legislature seems to have bought into the rhetoric that the right-to-work law is “anti-union.” Yet, it does nothing to prevent anyone from joining a union if they want to. In fact, according to the Michigan AFL-CIO, “union membership in Michigan grew by nearly 50,000 in 2022” notwithstanding the state’s right-to-work statute.
Contrary to its critics, the law simply gives workers the freedom to choose whether they must support a union with financial payments, even if they object to the union’s activities. As evidenced by the growth in membership, if unions demonstrate their value proposition, workers will financially support them. Michigan’s right-to-work law gives them the ability to make that choice freely, but its repeal will strip them of that right. One must ask, why do unions and their political allies believe that workers should be forced to provide financial support to a union they may not support just to keep their job?
About the authors
Sean P. Redmond
Sean P. Redmond is Vice President, Labor Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.