What’s the skinny on Michigan’s Right-To-Work law?

By Stacey Long, Task Force director of public policy & government affairs

Tuesday, with the stroke of his pen, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a new law that has changed the scope of rights for workers across the rust-belt state. In very short order, the state’s legislature moved the legislation through both chambers with no hearings and no committee vote. In a matter of days, it had been passed in both chambers and sent to the Governor’s desk where he it was promptly signed, in spite of his previous statements to the contrary.

Michigan has now become the 24th state to pass right-to-work laws. The real skinny on these laws should begin with clarifying a key point – dispelling the myth that Right-to-Work states are actually “simply giving workers the freedom to join unions if they so choose.” Unions will still be required to represent an employee regardless of whether or not they pay dues. What’s at stake in these states is not the ability to join a union, but whether or not unions can realistically survive in an environment where employee contributions are optional.

We have unions to thank for much of what has become standard practice for many employers. And employee unions negotiate benefits, salaries, time-off, terms of employment, termination policies and a host of other items that many of us have come to rely upon as basic workplace rights. Remember, all workers’ rights are at stake and this includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, which in MI are not protected against employment discrimination at the state [or federal] level. Oftentimes, the union contract is the only protection against unfair termination.

For instance, let’s say I’m a lesbian who’s been on the job for 15 years. I’m a solid employee with a spotless record. I’m happy, my company is happy and everything is going well until one day my old boss retires and my company hires a new boss who happens to be anti-LGBT. Once she realizes I’m gay, she decides it’s really a bad idea to keep me around and fires me right there on the spot. So I’ve just been terminated from my 15 year job – not for poor performance – but for being a lesbian. That’s outrageous and one of the reasons why we’re fighting so hard to achieve explicit LGBT employment protections at the federal level.

The Task Force has stood with labor unions on a range of issues publicly and proudly whether it was health care reform, the One Nation Working Together mobilization for jobs, justice and education, or the recent showdown in Wisconsin. This is an important alliance because for some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers, the union contract may be an employee’s only protection from adverse employment actions. If you live in one of the 34 states without clear LGBT employment protections you may have little or no recourse when a biased employer shows animus towards you in the workplace. Don’t stay silent while our rights are being taken away by callous lawmakers. We can stand in solidarity with our union brothers and sisters and express our outrage about these most recent actions. Click here to take action.