Assembly Line - Right To Work

What It Means for Employers and Workers

On December 11, 2012, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law two bills collectively enacting Right to Work legislation for the State of Michigan. You may have heard about this new legislation and wondered what it was all about. While such laws are fairly common-place in the south-east United States (12 of the 24 states are there), in the upper mid-west only Michigan and Indiana have right to work laws that cover private sector employees. The most important thing to understand about right to work laws is that they prevent unions and employers from requiring workers to join a union or to pay union dues as a condition of employment. The law will take effect gradually and it will allow current collective bargaining agreements between unions and employers to remain in place.

So what does the new law actually say?


  • Employees in Michigan can now decide whether they want to join a union and pay dues (what’s called an open shop) or not. Under prior Michigan law, an employee could be compelled to join a union and pay dues (known as a closed shop).

  • Individuals don’t have to resign from their unions and can’t be required to refrain from or avoid financially supporting a union as a condition of employment.

  • The Act’s prohibition against closed shop agreements applies only to an agreement or practice that takes effect or is extended or renewed after the effective date of the Act.

  • Any individual, employer, or labor organization that violates the law can be fined up to $500.

  • People who have been forced or threatened to be forced to join or quit a union as a condition of employment may file a civil action. The provision contains a “fee shifter,” meaning a prevailing plaintiff gets costs and reasonable attorney fees associated with the civil action.

  • Any employee who attempts to compel by force, intimidation, or unlawful threats any person into joining a union or paying dues may be liable for a civil penalty of up to $500.