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How the repeal of Michigan's right-to-work laws could impact Michiganders

How the repeal of Michigan's right-to-work laws could impact Michiganders
How the repeal of Michigan's right-to-work laws could impact Michiganders 02:13

(CBS DETROIT) - A bill to repeal Michigan's right-to-work law is heading to Governor Gretchen Whitmer's desk. 

The bill would prevent employees in unionized jobs from opting out of membership and paying dues. Whitmer is expected to sign the bill as early as next week.

Right-to-work has been in place in Michigan since 2012. Repealing the law would be a national landmark for organized labor. 

"It's incredibly rare, actually for any state to reverse a right-to-work law, once it's been enacted," said Michael Oswalt, a Wayne State University law professor. "It hasn't happened in decades and decades."

He said the repeal would be a shift in labor trends across the country, but wouldn't have a direct impact on most workers.

"In Michigan, only about 15% of workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement at all," Oswalt said. 

The repeal wouldn't impact jobs in the public sector like police, fire and public school teachers. But could impact unionized jobs in the private sectors, like the auto industry, construction and manufacturing jobs. 

Oswalt said supporters of the bill hope repealing right-to-work would draw more Michiganders to unions. 

Labor and employment lawyer, Richard Mack, said studies have shown the repeal would mean more money in those workers' pockets. 

"They've looked at right-to-work states, and those workers in those states, make $1,600 less per year," said Mack, a partner at Miller Cohen law firm.

He said right-to-work allows people to benefit from union bargaining, union accountants and lawyers, while other workers foot the bill. 

"Republicans always say, 'you shouldn't get something for nothing.' They beat up on welfare mothers and everyone else who they feel, wrongly, are getting something for nothing. But yet, they are the main champion of a bill which allows freeloading. Hippocrates."

"There is a way to solve this issue of the free rider," said Wendy Block, senior vice president of business advocacy and membership engagement at the Michigan Chamber Of Commerce. "Unfortunately, it doesn't look like anyone really wants to solve that issue, and they just kind of want to dig in their corner."

She said she thinks the repeal is politically motivated.

"We're worried that if Michigan repeals it's right-to-work state, that we are hanging a "closed" sign around the state of Michigan, and that we are going to be hamstrung in this race for new jobs," Block said. 

John Manor, membership director for the Associated Builders Of Southeastern Michigan agrees. He said their group and others opposed to the repeal aren't giving up the fight.

"Will probably be getting together, doing a little organizing of their own, and I think what you will see as a result from this is a ballot initiative to put right-to-work into Michigan's constitution so that it cannot be repealed easily," said Manor. 

As it stands, the Michigan House and Senate have approved the bill. Once the language is finalized Governor Whitmer has said she intends to sign it into law. 

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