Author: Melissa Gonzalez Boyce, XpertHR Legal Editor
Despite extremely large and heated protests by labor unions, Michigan became the 24th right-to-work state on December 11, 2012. As a right-to-work state, Michigan will prohibit employees, both in the private and public sectors, from being required to join a union or pay an agency fee to a union as a term or condition of employment.
If an employer and union do enter into an agreement requiring an employer to become a union member or pay dues, the agreement would be deemed unlawful and unenforceable and the employer and/or union would be liable for a fine up to $500. This law will take effect in April 2013, 90 days after the end of the legislative session. Note that the new law does not affect collective bargaining agreements requiring the payment of dues or agency fees that are already in place as of the effective date. However, upon the expiration of those collective bargaining agreements, any provisions containing such a requirement of payment will be deemed unenforceable. Likewise, such terms will become ineffective if the parties agree to renew the existing collective bargaining agreement.
The enactment of the right-to-work law is indeed a bold and surprising move to many as Michigan is, by far, the most unionized state to pass such a measure with 17.5 percent of Michigan workers represented by unions. The days leading up to the passage of the right-to-work law were filled with contentious and passionate protests from both sides of the debate. While supporters favored the law because they say it will attract more businesses to the state and provide workers with more choices, the opposition and union leaders saw it as another measure aimed at limiting the power and influence of organized labor. However, both sides have recognized the fact that labor is engrained in Michigan's fabric. In fact, Michigan is the birthplace of the United Auto Workers.
As a result of this new law, labor relations in Michigan will be affected significantly. Employers should immediately begin reviewing their relationships with their unions and existing collective bargaining agreements.
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