Proposal 2 is best understood by first examining which workers would be affected by the measure. Labor law in the United States can be divided into two separate categories. The first is private-sector employment. Workers in the private sector are governed by myriad federal statutes concerning their legal protections on the job. The primary statutes for most private-sector workers are the National Labor Relations Act[1] and the Railway Labor Act.[2]

States have limited power to regulate labor relations for workers in the private sector. Their primary power is the ability to pass a “right-to-work” law, which is discussed later.[*] Michigan also regulates, under an act known as the Labor Relations and Mediation Act, small-scale private-sector unionization that does not meet threshold requirements in the NLRA.[3] On the whole, given the presence of the NLRA (passed in 1935) and Michigan law governing small-scale unionization (passed in 1939), Proposal 2 would have little effect on the private-sector employees in Michigan.

The second major category of labor law is employment in state and local government.[†] In Michigan, local government employees have been permitted to engage in collective bargaining since the passage in 1965 of the state’s Public Employment Relations Act, which is based on the federal NLRA. State employees, on the other hand, are mostly governed by the Michigan Civil Service Commission, which is empowered by the state constitution[4] and whose rules since 1979 have permitted state employees to collectively bargain.[‡]

State and local government employees are much more numerous than the limited contingent of private-sector employees covered by the Labor Relations and Mediation Act. Moreover, state and local government employees are entirely governed by state law, unlike private-sector employees. Hence, Proposal 2’s practical effects would involve almost exclusively state and local government employees.

[*] A “right-to-work” law is based on section 14(b) of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which allows states to bar union or agency shop collective bargaining agreements where union membership is a condition of employment. 29 U.S.C.A. § 164(b). In practical terms, state “right-to-work” laws stipulate that providing financial support to a union cannot be made a condition of employment. To date, 23 states have adopted right-to-work laws, mostly in the South and West. Indiana was the first Midwest state to enact a right-to-work law.

[†] Federal government workers are covered by federal laws.

[‡] Michigan Civil Service Commission Rules, Revised May 23, 2012, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3. In November 1978, state troopers and sergeants were given the power to collectively bargain through an amendment to the Michigan Constitution. Const. 1963, art. 11, sec. 5.