Employee Legal Rights and Opportunities in Unionized and Nonunionized Workplaces

As noted in Section 2, the history of American labor relations has mostly been one of freedom of contract and association, which included labor services. For many years, individual employers and employees were free to contract out their services and decide their own terms largely without interference from government. This was known as the "at-will" principle, which left both employers and employees free to terminate their relationship at any time and for any reason.

With the passage of the National Labor Relations Act by Congress in 1935, compulsory unionism for private-sector workers became official public policy in federal law. The enactment of Michigan's Public Employment Relations Act in 1947 made compulsory unionism for government employees Michigan's policy. Subsequent amendments to both of these laws have returned a measure of freedom to workers who do not want to support labor union activities or who wish to play a more active role in the affairs of their workplace union.

At the same time, however, a plethora of new federal and state laws has begun to further complicate the employment relationship. Employees, whether unionized or not, have legal recourse through an ever-expanding array of laws intended to prevent discrimination, ensure on-the-job-safety, and accomplish many other social goals. The unfortunate consequence of these laws, and various court decisions based upon them, has been the erosion of freedom in the workplace and the decline of the traditional employment-at-will principle.

The purpose of this section is to provide a clear explanation of the legal rights of Michigan employees—government or private, union or nonunion—to allow them a greater degree of control over their workplace associations and the use of their hard-earned wages.