Progressives celebrated Thursday after Michigan's Democratic-led House approved legislation that would rescind anti-union "right-to-work" laws imposed by Republican lawmakers in 2012 and restore prevailing wage requirements eliminated by the GOP in 2018.
"Everyone deserves fairness and respect when they're on the job, so seeing House Democrats vote to repeal the anti-union legislation and reinstate prevailing wage is incredible news for Michigan's working families," Progress Michigan executive director Lonnie Scott said in a statement.
"The Legislature stood up yesterday and rejected the harmful pro-corporate, anti-worker policies of the past," said Scott. "It's a great example of what can happen when voters come together to elect a progressive majority."
State Rep. Jim Haadsma (D-44), chair of the House Labor Committee, made the same point Wednesday, saying that "exactly 120 days ago, Michiganders chose new leadership in the Michigan Legislature, and today demonstrates they chose leaders who will stand up for workers."
In party-line 56-53 votes, Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday night passed H.B. 4004 and H.B. 4005. The bills seek to nullify the state's Republican-authored "right-to-work" laws affecting public and private sector workers.
The U.S. Supreme Court's 2018 decision in Janus vs. AFSCME barring public sector unions from collecting "fair share" fees "renders H.B. 4004 unenforceable," Detroit Free Pressreported. "But proponents of the bill want to change Michigan's labor laws for public employees in the event the court overturns the decision."
Contrary to what the misleading name suggests, "right-to-work" laws do not guarantee employment to job-seekers. Instead, they prohibit employers and unions from entering into agreements that require every worker covered by a contract to pay union dues—making it harder for organized labor groups to sustain themselves financially, undermining workers' collective bargaining power, and lowering wages by an average of $11,000 per year.
The GOP's so-called "right-to-work" agenda "has done nothing but hurt hardworking Michiganders," said recently elected state Rep. Regina Weiss (D-27), the lead sponsor of both bills. "It has allowed people who don't pay union dues to take advantage of union benefits."
"House Democrats will always stand in solidarity with working families, and the bills that were passed today restore the power of Michigan workers, give them the freedom to expand their rights, and deliver on our promise to put Michigan workers first," Weiss added. "We are proud to stand with workers across our state and ensure that they have a seat at the bargaining table and their rights are restored."
"The bills passed last night are the first step in restoring the power of working people and unions after a decade of attacks by the DeVos family and Michigan Republicans."
Democrats also approved H.B. 4007 by a margin of 56-53. The bill aims to bring back the prevailing wage law that Republicans axed five years ago. It would require contractors hired for public construction projects to pay workers union-level wages.
"House Democrats promised we would restore prevailing wage, and we have kept our promise. Michigan workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and that starts by ensuring fair wages," said state Rep. Brenda Carter (D-53), the bill's lead sponsor. "We must ensure our hardworking residents receive pay that's in line with the value of their skills and services. We must also offer competitive wages in order to attract and retain a highly trained workforce because we do not want to see critical infrastructure projects built by contractors that cut corners."
Also on Wednesday, the lower chamber approved legislation that would codify LGBTQ+ protections and strengthen background checks for gun purchases. To become law, the bills must be passed by the Democratic-led state Senate and signed by Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
In a statement, Whitmer applauded the House Labor Committee, which led the effort to reverse Republicans' anti-union legislation, for prioritizing Michigan's working class. "Working people," the governor said, "should always have basic freedoms in the workplace without interference from the government."
To date, GOP lawmakers in 28 states have enacted so-called "right-to-work" laws, but Michigan Democrats are now on the verge of reducing that number to 27.
State Rep. Matt Hall (R-63) has attempted to throw a wrench into the works by attaching a $1 million appropriation to H.B. 4004 and H.B. 4005.
"The appropriation means that the legislation is not subject to a public referendum in which voters could reject the law," Detroit Free Press explained. "Whitmer in her first term issued an executive directive promising to veto any legislation 'that circumvents the right to a referendum.'"
Scott, meanwhile, argued Thursday that "Republicans passing right-to-work in 2012 and repealing prevailing wage in 2018 had one goal: to undermine unions and workers' ability to organize in the workplace."
"Those two actions were part of a generational fight by greedy corporate interests to eliminate unions so they can control the workplace and political institutions," he added. "The bills passed last night are the first step in restoring the power of working people and unions after a decade of attacks by the DeVos family and Michigan Republicans."