On December 11, Governor Snyder signed two bills enacting Right to Work legislation (called “Freedom to Work” by proponents) that cover most private and public employees.  The only exclusions are for employees covered by “Act 312” who are mostly municipal  police and fire fighters, and for State Police Troopers and Sergeants who are governed by an amendment to Article 11, Section 5 of the Michigan Constitution.  With the enactment of this legislation, Michigan has become the 24th state with Freedom to Work laws.

The laws, which do not become effective until on or about April 1, 2013, do not change the terms of any contracts in effect as of that date.  However, for agreements signed after the effective date, the new laws prohibit an employer and collective bargaining agent from agreeing to require membership in a union or the payment of any fee or assessment (usually called “agency fees”) to the union by an individual in the bargaining unit as a condition of employment or application for employment.  The laws also prohibit requiring that any similar payments be made to a third party, such as a charity, in lieu of payment to the collective bargaining agent.  Before enactment of these laws, under most (if not all) collective bargaining agreements, employees were required to join the union or to pay the agency fee as a condition of employment.  The proponents have been touting the proposal as freedom of choice for workers to decide whether or not to financially support unions.  Pursuant to state and federal labor law, any individual who elects to not join the union nor pay the “agency fee,” where a union is the exclusive bargaining representative, is still covered by the terms of the bargaining agreement. 

Dykema is preparing a more comprehensive review of their effect upon Michigan employers, based on a review of the laws’ actual provisions.  For now, employers that are in the process of negotiating collective bargaining agreements may wish to carefully review the final law as passed and signed by the Governor, as well as discuss with their labor counsel the impact of the law upon the current labor contract  and possible issues/opportunities that may be presented.