'Right-to-work' arrives for Michigan's unions

Michigan's new 'right-to-work' law goes into effect, stripping unions in the state of many protections and privileges.

Today Michigan officially becomes the nation’s twenty-fourth right-to-work state. Under the new statute, workers can opt out of paying union dues and still retain union benefits. I talked to some of those Michigan unions to find out what day one of the change will look like.

If you walked into the office of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters today you would see lots of people wearing red shirts as a symbolic statement against the new law. But the biggest changes won’t be visible.

“It’s almost like the loss of someone you know. It’s going to be looming over all of our heads” says Lisa Canada, the political legislative director of the carpenters union.

Another thing you might notice is the phone ringing more than usual. Canada says many union members are confused about the new law.

“There is so much misinformation out there about right-to work” Canada says.

Because workers can get the contract benefits of unions without paying dues, union leaders worry that they will have less money to contribute to political candidates in elections. They’re also concerned that opting out of dues will cause divisions among workers.

“If a worker decides he or she doesn’t want to pay their fair share, their coworkers are going to be pretty unhappy about that,” says United Auto Workers President Bob King.

He says many of the changes will come when union contracts with employers expire and both sides sit down to negotiate those contracts. That’s when the new law's limiting of union rights will have their biggest impact.

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.

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