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How Michigan Became a Right to Work State: The Role of Money and Politics

December 2015

Michelle Kaminski


The author outlines the process which led to the passage of Right to Work in the State of Michigan, a traditionally strong union state. In Michigan, Right to Work was passed in about a week’s time, with the bills being introduced in the House and Senate, taking the minimum amount of time between votes, and subsequently signed by the Governor in the 2012 lame duck legislature session. The author argues that the traditional argument that labor unions overstepped by proposing a ballot measure in that year’s election which enshrined strong collective bargaining language, which was overwhelmingly voted down, forced republican’s hand in the matter. Instead, the author argues that it was one particular republican donor, Dick Devos, who manipulated legislators into passing the bill by offering financial assistance to re-election campaigns, and threats to run his own candidates against the elected officials.

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Policy Implications

While the article is limited on actual evidence of Dick Devos’ involvement, it does provide a convincing narrative. Regardless, organized labor’s approach to the issue was clearly faulted. For future policy implications, the author argues the main lesson is to “Be prepared. Invest in the infrastructure necessary to leverage an opportunity when it presents itself”. The author also argues that organized labor needs to organize its vision for the future in a more cohesive, clear manner. Finally, the author points out the relatively small gains made by organized labor under (federal) Democratic Party rule, and the need to change this issue in the future.

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