Michigan lawmakers approve 'freedom to work' bill

[JURIST] Michigan's Senate and House of Representatives [official websites] passed legislation [SB 116, materials] on Thursday, known as "Freedom to Work," that makes payment of union dues voluntary and limits workers' rights to strike and picket. The House passed the legislation by a vote of 58-52, over unanimous Democratic opposition [AP report]. The Senate then approved the legislation by a vote of 22-16, with several Republicans joining Democrats in voting against it. Freedom to Work drew a great deal of controversy not only because of its anti-union implications, but also because it was passed without any opportunity for the public to weigh in [CNN report]. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder [official website] applauded Freedom to Work [statement], saying that it will make Michigan more competitive economically. The legislation applies to both private sector and public sector unions.

Attempts to limit collective bargaining rights have been confronted with heavy opposition. In September the Michigan Supreme Court ordered [JURIST report] a union-backed measure to amend the state constitution to include a right to labor unionization and collective bargaining to appear on the November ballot. The measure was defeated 57-43 percent [AP report]. Wisconsin faced a challenge against its legislation which limited the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. In July the Wisconsin Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] not to reopen a case challenging the state's Budget Repair Bill [text, PDF] because of a justice's refusal to recuse himself. Four votes were needed, but only three justices were in support of reopening the case. The court upheld [JURIST report] the bill in June 2011 thereby overruling the Dane County Circuit Court [official website] finding [JURIST report] a month earlier that legislators had violated the "open meetings" rule. The court ruled that the lower court had "invaded the legislature's constitutional powers." In March a judge for the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin [official website] ruled unconstitutional [JURIST report] certain provisions of the Budget Repair Bill reasoning that unions which supported Governor Scott Walker [official website] during his election were apparently given preferential treatment. Last November Ohio voters rejected [JURIST report] a bill which would have impacted Ohio's 400,000 public workers by limiting their ability to strike and collectively bargain for health insurance and pensions.

 

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