Dem-led House passes bills to repeal Right to Work, decrease gun violence

Labor advocates who have opposed the laws from their inception say that they have taken resources away from unions

Mar 10, 2023 at 9:18 am
click to enlarge A crowd gathers in Lansing in 2012 to protest the so-called Right to Work legislation. - Equality Michigan/LGBT Free Media Collective, Wikimedia Commons
Equality Michigan/LGBT Free Media Collective, Wikimedia Commons
A crowd gathers in Lansing in 2012 to protest the so-called Right to Work legislation.

The Michigan House on Wednesday worked late into the night to reverse controversial, GOP-enacted labor laws and restrict firearm access, hours after the Legislature finalized a historic LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination bill that now awaits Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature.

All six bills will now need to advance through respective Senate committees before the full Senate can vote on them and the House can enroll the bill to send to Whitmer’s desk. The Democratic governor has long expressed support for all legislation passed on Wednesday.

Right to Work repealed; prevailing wage restored

“Right to Work” laws, signed by GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2012 to curtail the power of unions, were highly controversial at their onset and have been a target for Democrats since. RTW’s passage in the state Legislature drew a pro-union protest of roughly 12,000 people to the state Capitol at the time.

Labor advocates who have opposed the laws from their inception say that they have taken resources away from unions, impairing their ability to bargain effectively for their members.

On Wednesday, the Michigan House adopted House Bills 4004 and 4005 along party lines (56-53) to reverse RTW provisions, restoring collective bargaining rights that pro-union voices say have been significantly diminished for the last 11 years.

House Bill 4004, sponsored by state Rep. Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park), would allow a requirement for an agency fee for nonunion members.House Bill 4005, sponsored by Weiss, would also restore former provisions within collective bargaining rights.

Twenty-seven other states have RTW laws.

Under Snyder, prevailing wage for contracted workers on state projects was also repealed in 2018. Advocates say reinstating this will guarantee higher wages for construction workers.

House Bill 4007, sponsored by state Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac), would restore the state’s prevailing wage law by requiring the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO) to set prevailing wage rates and fringe benefits for skilled-trades people working on state building projects.

HB 4007 was also adopted in the Michigan House along a party-line vote of 56-53.

“Today, our pro-worker Democratic majority in the state House took historic action to undo the devastation caused by decades of attacks on workers’ freedom,” Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said in a statement Wednesday.

“Since 2012, thousands of Michigan workers, labor leaders, and organizers across the state have been mobilizing and laying the groundwork for this moment,” Bieber continued. “We applaud the House’s swift action to undo the damage caused by [former U.S. Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos, [GOP former Gov.] John Engler, Rick Snyder and their worker suppression agendas.”

Earlier on Thursday, the House Labor Committee met and heard testimony from both sides regarding the proposed legislation before advancing the bills to the full, Democratic-controlled chamber.

In 2012, by contrast, the GOP-led Legislature did not hold any hearings on the right to work bills before adopting them. Lawmakers also attempted to shut the public and some reporters out of the state Capitol at the time.

“We’ve known this day was coming since we woke up on Nov. 9 and realized we had achieved majority,” said state Rep. Jim Haadsma (D-Battle Creek), chair of the House Labor Committee.

“Exactly 120 days ago, Michiganders chose new leadership in the Michigan Legislature, and today demonstrates they chose leaders who will stand up for workers,” Haadsma continued. “I am grateful our constituents trusted us to restore workers’ freedoms and re-establish union rights.”

Following November’s election, Democrats now control the Michigan House, Senate and governorship for the first time in nearly 40 years.

All three bills now head to the Senate Committee on Labor before being put up for a full chamber vote.

Advancements on firearm safety

Also adopted in the Michigan House late on Wednesday were three bills meant to act as proactive measures to prevent gun violence.

The push for gun safety measures comes in the fallout of a Feb. 13 shooting at Michigan State University, when three students were killed on campus and five more were critically injured.

House Bill 4138, sponsored by state Rep. Jaime Churches (D-Wyandotte), would require background checks for all unlicensed gun sales.House Bill 4142, sponsored by state Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac), would update the Michigan Penal Code to ensure that all firearm sales are subject to a background check.House Bill 4143, sponsored by state Rep. Kristian Grant (D-Grand Rapids), would update the state’s code of criminal procedure to ensure that all firearm sales are subject to a background check.

All three bills passed along party lines, 56-53, in the Michigan House on Wednesday.

“This legislation ensures that no gun in Michigan, whether a pistol or an assault rifle, can be legally sold without a background check,” said Ryan Bates, executive director of End Gun Violence Michigan. “This bill will save lives and move Michigan toward the day when guns are no longer the number one cause of death for children.”

The Michigan chapters of Mom Demand Action and Students Demand Action, which are part of Everytown for Gun Safety’s national network, also praised lawmakers specifically for passing HB 4138.

“Communities across Michigan continue to reel from the trauma of gun violence,” said Celeste Kanpurwala, a volunteer with the Michigan chapter of Moms Demand Action. “We thank Michigan House lawmakers for moving with urgency in passing this lifesaving bill and look forward to swift progress on other legislation awaiting a vote.

“This is how we honor with action.”

Many more firearm-related bills are still making their way through committees in both chambers.

An 11-bill package also aimed at preventing gun violence was reported out of the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee on Thursday. Senate Bills 76-80, and Senate Bills 83-86 were reported out 5-2 along party lines. Senate Bills 81 and 82 were reported unanimously.

The Senate legislation would mandate universal background checks for all guns (currently, only the purchase of handguns requires a background check in Michigan), require that gun owners safely store firearms that could be accessed by minors, and permit a court to order the temporary removal of firearms from someone who may be a danger to themselves or others.

Originally published by Michigan Advance. It is republished here with permission.

Coming soon: Metro Times Daily newsletter. We’ll send you a handful of interesting Detroit stories every morning. Subscribe now to not miss a thing.

Follow us: Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter