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Michigan Unions Suffer Blow With 'Right to Work' Law

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A measure prohibiting unions from charging "agency fees" for nonmembers has passed in Michigan, yet another blow to organized labor in a state traditionally known for powerful unions.

The state becomes the 24th so-called "right to work" state, an often-misunderstood term. Essentially, it means that unions can't compel nonmembers to pay fees, even when the union provides some services (such as negotiating wages) on behalf of both members and nonmembers. It doesn't mean that bargaining is prohibited outright, which is the case in only five states (Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.)

A good parallel is probably Florida, which has many unionized teachers, but whose unions cannot collect revenue from nonmembers.

The Michigan Education Association, the larger of the two teachers' unions in the state, had about 117,000 members in 2010-11, Mike Antonucci reports, though it's probably fallen somewhat given the National Education Association's loss of about 100,000 members in just two years.

Indiana passed a similar right-to-work law in February, on the heels of a 2011 law that curbed the scope of collective bargaining in that state.

Measures to limit the scope of bargaining, or do away with it altogether, also passed last year in Idaho, Tennessee, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Two of them, Ohio's and Idaho's, were later overturned in referendums held in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Photo: Silent protesters wear stickers to signify what they say will be loss in wages from the right-to-work legislation during a rally on Wednesday in Lansing, Mich. Michigan became the 24th state with a right-to-work law after Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill Tuesday. (Carlos Osorio/AP)

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