By Ronald J. Kramer

The home of the UAW is now a right-to-work state.  On December 11, 2012, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law two bills that will make Michigan a right-to-work state for both private sector (Senate Bill No. 116) and most public sector (House Bill No. 4003) employees.  Michigan follows Indiana, which earlier in 2012 became the first rust-belt state to adopt a right-to-work law.  Michigan becomes the 24th state to adopt a right-to-work law.  The new laws will not take effect until ninety days after the last legislative session day of the year, which likely will be December 27 or December 28.  This means the new laws likely will become effective on or about March 27 or 28, 2013.

Under the new Michigan laws, individuals (except public sector police and fire department employees and state troopers) shall not be required as a condition of obtaining or continuing employment to become or remain union members; to pay union dues, fines, assessments or fees; or to contribute to a charitable organization in lieu of paying union dues.  Any contract, agreement, understanding or practice between or involving a union and an employer that violates the right to work law is unlawful and unenforceable.

As noted, the prohibition on contracts containing such union security provisions, however, applies only to agreements that take effect or are extended or renewed after the effective date of the laws, projected to be sometime in late March.  Thus, collective bargaining agreements in effect as of late March 2013 with union security provisions will remain enforceable until they expire.

Individuals, including unions and employers, who violate the new law are liable for a civil fine of not more than $500, and also can be sued for civil damages and injunctive relief.  Successful plaintiffs are entitled to their reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees.

The laws contain appropriation provisions so as to prevent them from becoming subject to a recall election.  Nonetheless, labor unions have vowed to fight the legislation.  There may be challenges to how the laws were passed, but the most likely challenge is through a change in political power.  No doubt this will be a major subject in Michigan during the next election cycle.

Whether the home of the UAW will remain a right-to-work state for long remains to be seen.  Employers with Michigan operations, however, need to understand that their union contracts will remain valid and in effect until their expiration sometime after the new laws take effect.  Contracts will then need to be revised to reflect the fact that employees can no longer be required to be union members.