Michigan’s Right-To-Work Repeal Will Weaponize Union Dues To Tilt Future Elections, Opponents Warn

Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

James Lynch Contributor
Font Size:

Michigan Democrats are voting on a legislative package to repeal the state’s right to work law and provide unions special privileges enabling them to bankroll political campaigns with subsidized union dues.

The proposed legislation would repeal right-to-work for private sector workers, enable unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns and make union dues eligible for a 100% refundable tax credit. Public sector workers will continue to live under right to work because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). (RELATED: Whitmer Admits Some Of Her Lockdown Policies Didn’t Make Sense)

Opponents believe the bills will worsen the state’s economy and prevent rank-and-file workers from holding union officials accountable, while also giving Democrats a significant funding boost in future elections.

The financial benefits Democratic campaigns would reap from increased union funding could affect state and national elections in Michigan, a perennial battleground state. This is a pure power grab, all of that in my view is a pure power grab,” Mark Mix, President of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, told the Daily Caller. “They want the dues revenue, they need it for 2024, for the elections, it’s going to be a whole big pile of money.” 

The combination of repealing right to work and enabling unlimited campaign contributions from unions, with union dues subsidized by taxpayers, creates a cycle in which workers’ money is used to support Democrats and Democrats turn around and lavish tax revenues on their labor allies, Ford worker Terry Bowman argues. “The union uses dues money to support Democrat politicians whether workers support them or not. Michigan taxpayers are going to be footing the bill for something that ultimately benefits the Democrat party.”

Michigan House Democrats used their two-seat majority to push the slate of laws to the state Senate, where a vote is expected to take place on Tuesday night. Senate Democrats are expected to pass the legislation with a two-seat majority and send it to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to sign.

What we saw in the House, it was a party-line vote, they certainly are pushing a party-line vote in the Senate. This is not a mandate for their policies, and this is after an unthinkable amount of spending on their side,” Annie Patnaude, Michigan state director at Americans for Prosperity, told the Daily Caller. From a political standpoint, I think we’re seeing Governor Whitmer certainly pander to national labor unions as she runs for president from Lansing.”

Patnaude also claims that Democrats are using “strong-arm tactics” to rush the legislation through without giving lawmakers time to read the bills. As an example, she noted that Michigan’s legislature is attaching appropriations spending to the legislation to prevent the possibility of a referendum overturning it after it passes. 

Repealing right-to-work would require private sector workers to pay union dues as a condition for employment, even if they object to the union’s political activities. “They will be forced as condition of employment to pay the union a fee and if they do not pay the fee, they will be fired,” Steve Delie, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center, a Michigan-based free market think tank, explained. It’s going to be hundreds of dollars a year they previously didn’t have coming out of their checks to come out of their checks. In a time of economic turmoil, ordinary workers will have to do with less.”

Michigan’s economy will suffer “slower growth, slower wage growth, slower job growth,” Delie said. States with right-to-work enjoyed greater private sector employment growth and greater private sector manufacturing growth, according to data compiled from 2011 to 2021 by the National Institute for Labor Relations Research. 

Bowman expressed concern that getting rid of right to work will reduce the accountability of union officials who are out of touch with the rank-and-file. “They’re not here to benefit the Michigan worker, the individual rank-and-file worker,” Bowman said. “Union officials are completely out of touch with workers.” Bowman was co-chair of the Michigan Republican party from 2019 to 2021.

He cited the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) corruption scandals as an example of what can happen when union officials grow distant from rank-and-file workers. “When union officials don’t have to show worth to their membership, it leads to a culture of corruption,” Bowman said. “Without a right to work law in place, union officials completely pull themselves away from the rank-and-file because the rank-and-file’s needs are completely different from the needs of union officials.” Bowman is a former UAW member who left the union.

One poll from Feb. 13 showed 71 percent of voters from union households oppose Michigan Democrats’ push to repeal right to work.  Large unions such as the UAW, AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers have advocated against right to work because it limits unions’ resources. (RELATED: GOP Rep. Joe Wilson Reintroduces National Right To Work Act To Prevent Mandated Union Dues)

Mix also argues that the UAW scandals reflect the need for right-to-work to prevent misconduct from union officials. “The first union that comes to mind is the UAW,” he said. “One of the most compelling arguments for right-to-work is the accountability it gives union officials.”

Many rank-and-file workers in the state are “completely different” from union officials, according to Bowman. A vast majority of autoworkers supported former President Donald Trump, despite union officials supporting Democratic rivals, he claims. Early exit polling showed Hillary Clinton beating Trump by 13 points among Michigan union households, down significantly from former President Barack Obama’s 33-point advantage in 2012.

Trump narrowly won Michigan on his way to defeating Clinton in the 2016 election, but lost the state against Biden in 2020. 

“From repealing right to work to eliminating caps only on union PAC contributions, Michigan Democrats have created a government of, by, and for the union bosses. Democrats tell us they want to get money out of politics, but this move instead concentrates political power to a select group that will now be able to bankroll entire campaigns with no questions asked,” former Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon told the Caller. Dixon lost to by Whitmer in the 2022 midterm elections.

Whitmer’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, signed the state’s right-to-work legislation in Dec. 2012. He defended right-to-work in a Thursday op-ed for The Detroit News, touting its worker freedom and economic benefits for the state. Snyder won reelection in 2014 but could not run for a third term due to term limits.