Michigan enacted a ban on mandatory union membership Tuesday, dealing a stunning blow to organized labour in the state that is home to U.S. automakers and the symbol of industrial labour in the U.S.
As more than 12,000 unionized workers protested at the Capitol in Lansing, the Republican-led state House of Representatives gave final approval to a pair of "right-to-work" bills covering public-and private-sector unions. Republican Governor Rick Snyder signed the bills into law as soon as they reached his desk, completing in a few days a campaign to make Michigan the 24th U.S. state to prohibit unions from requiring employees to join and contribute dues.
"I view this as an opportunity to stand up for Michigan's workers, to be pro-worker," Snyder told a news conference after he signed the bills.
The laws will take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session, which means they will probably come into force sometime in April. Existing union contracts will not be changed until they expire, according to a provision of the laws.
In a rapid turn of events, Michigan moved from being a bastion of union influence to joining states, mostly in the South, that have weakened local protections for unions.
The Teamsters union national president, James Hoffa, whose father, Jimmy Hoffa, was one of the most famous labour leaders until he disappeared in 1975 in Michigan, denounced Republican leaders in a speech to the protesters.
Unions have accused Snyder of caving in to wealthy Republican business owners and political donors such as the Koch brothers, owners of an energy and trading conglomerate, and Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Michigan-based Amway.
Snyder, a former computer company executive who had said "right-to-work" legislation was too divisive for Michigan, changed course last week and announced his support.
While labour leaders decried the legislation, Republican Representative Lisa Lyons said during the debate in the House that such laws were not an attack on unions. "This is the day Michigan freed its workers," she said.
Opponents argue that the measures undermine a basic union tenet of bargaining collectively with employers for better wages, benefits and working conditions. They also allow workers to opt out of a union, potentially reducing membership. By weakening unions, Republicans also could hurt the Democratic Party, which traditionally receives significant funding and grass-roots support from unions.
Supporters of right-to-work measures say some unions have become too rigid and workers should be given a choice of whether to join. They also say a more flexible labour force encourages business investment, citing "right-to-work" states where some foreign automakers have built plants rather in Michigan.
© Copyright 2013