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For Saginaw County, no running around right-to-work law

Supporters of making Michigan a "right to work" state expect legislation will be introduced in January. Critics call such laws "right to work for less."

Unions are rushing to sign contracts before Michigan's right to work law takes effect this month.

But one county is worried Republicans might retaliate.

In Saginaw County, the biggest public union wants to get a 10-year contract signed ASAP.

If that happens before March 28th, it can still require workers to pay for union dues – which will be illegal under the new law.

But county officials say they’re afraid Republicans will yank state dollars from the county as retribution.

County commissioner Michael Hanley says that’s a risk they just can’t take

"It's a real possibility that the administration could put strings on revenue sharing, and deny it to counties that extended contracts such as this."

Hanley also says they can’t give one union special treatment, and not the dozen or so other public employee unions in the county.

Needless to say, the unions aren’t happy with this decision. Jeffrey Flemming is a rep for the county’s largest public union.

He says the new right-to-work law is bad for business.

"The workforce is going to be very divided as you can imagine,” he says.

“If I'm working next to next to someone who's not paying their union dues, but I'm paying union dues, and we're both getting the same level of representation, that's not going to do good things for morale."

A handful of school districts and Wayne State University have signed extended contracts ahead of the deadline.

The University of Michigan has okayed a similar deal with their lecturer’s union.

Central Michigan University’s board of regents say they’re not interested in dodging the right-to-work law.

But proponents of the right-to-work law say these kinds of last-minute contracts are hurting taxpayers.

By forcing employees to pay union dues, many Republicans at the statehouse say companies and local governments have their hands tied.

Even if they’re drowning in debt, conservatives say, employers can’t get sufficient compromises from the union, so long as all employees have to be paying union members. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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