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Whitmer signs bill in to law to repeal right-to-work

Governor Gretchen Whitmer, speaking into a microphone while sitting down. A sign language interpreter is in the background.
Michigan Executive Office of the Governor

Governor Gretchen Whitmer moved quickly Friday to sign bills sent to her this week to repeal Michigan’s right-to-work law and to require the state contractors to pay union-level wages.

State lawmakers passed the legislation earlier in the week.

It’s unusual for bills to be signed this quickly after being adopted by the Legislature. Democrats had promised pro-union bills would be a top priority this year and this seals that commitment.

“Michigan workers are the most talented and hard-working in the world and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” Whitmer said in a statement released Friday by her office.

“These bills will protect health and safety, ensuring healthcare workers can put patient care ahead of profit, construction workers can speak up when there’s a safety issue, and employees can call attention to food safety threats and other problems.”

Bobby Leddy, the governor’s communications director, said the Legislature and the Whitmer administration have coupled these labor-friendly policies with business incentives to attract employers.

“Creating both a strong business environment and worker environment is part of our goal of making sure that people know that Michigan is open for business,” he told Michigan Public Radio.

AFL-CIO of Michigan President Ron Bieber said this is a welcome turnaround from 2012, when a state considered a cradle of the labor movement adopted the right-to-work law.

“After decades of anti-worker attacks, Michigan has restored the balance of power for working people by passing laws to protect their freedom to bargain for the good wages, good benefits, and safe workplaces they deserve.”

This is also the first time in decades that a state legislature has adopted a law to reverse right-to-work. Republicans who opposed the repeal said signing the law was a mistake that will cost the state business.

“Without right-to-work, businesses will find more competitive states for their manufacturing plants and research and development facilities, and workers and careers will drift away,” said House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Twp.) in a statement released by his office.

Sarah Anderson, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, said the state is already relying on expensive, taxpayer-funded incentives to attract businesses.

“It’s astounding to me the speed at which Governor Whitmer and her legislative allies are destroying Michigan’s business climate,” she said. “I think we’ll look back at this moment as the beginning of a new ‘Lost Decade.’”

The governor also signed a bill Friday to repeal the law that requires schools to hold back students who don’t hit reading benchmarks.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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