Employment And Labor Law Alert - It's Official: Michigan's "Right-To-Work" Law Takes Effect

On March 28, 2013, Michigan's "right-to-work" law, the Workplace Fairness and Equity Act, went into effect (available here). The law prohibits any requirement that an employee pay union dues or join a union as a condition of employment. The law's supporters believe it will make Michigan more attractive to businesses, while critics argue it amounts to an outright attack on the financial viability of unions.

Despite the law's effective date, Michigan employees currently covered by a collective bargaining agreement will have to wait before exercising their right-to-work privileges. The new law only applies to contracts, including extensions and renewals, entered into on or after March 28, 2013—meaning those employees subject to an agreement that went into effect before this date may not elect to opt-out until the agreement expires (which, in some cases, could be years from now).

While employees covered by new agreements cannot be forced to join a union or pay dues, they are entitled to the same wages and benefits under the contract as dues paying members, including union representation in bargaining. In addition to giving employees the choice not to pay union dues, Michigan's law also creates a cause of action against individuals or unions guilty of intimidating or coercing employees in the exercise of their rights. Violations of the law come with a $500 fine, as well as the potential for injunctive relief, other damages and attorney fees, and it applies to both public and private employees (excluding certain law enforcement personnel and firefighters).

Including Michigan, there are 24 states with right-to-work legislation on the books. In the Midwest, those states include Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Michigan. Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin, however, have yet to implement a right-to-work law. Employers operating in this region should be mindful of the varying labor laws in effect in each state, including right-to-work legislation.