The legislation, which Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed late Tuesday, bars unions from forcing workers to join their ranks or to pay monthly dues to retain their jobs, making Michigan the 24th state to adopt what backers call a "right-to-work" law. The Republicans' move to push such a law appeared to catch labor leaders off guard, as Governor Snyder had previously said he was not inclined to push for legislation that unions perceive as hostile, especially in a state where the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and United Auto Workers have deep roots.
But Michigan lawmakers say unions have no one but themselves to blame. The unions' decision to push for a November referendum to amend the state constitution to protect collective bargaining rights had infuriated the Republicans. When the referendum lost badly, the GOP interpreted that as a green light to rush through the legislature two right-to-work bills – one aimed at public-sector unions and the second at private. The package, which does not apply to police or firefighter unions, was introduced last Thursday, and by Friday both the state House and Senate had voted in favor. A final vote took place Tuesday, and Governor Snyder then signed the package.
“When the unions made the effort to push through the referendum and lost resoundingly, that changed the game,” says Marick Masters, a political scientist and labor management relations expert at Wayne State University in Detroit. “That amendment angered the conservative base of the Republican Party to no end, and so they decided to pursue right-to-work aggressively.”