People who do very similar work are regulated very differently in Michigan. This suggests that occupational licensing rules are established for reasons other than considering what constitutes a risk to public health and safety. If this were the primary concern, similar occupations would have similar regulations. These disparities highlight why occupational laws need to be regularly reviewed to ensure they are consistent and necessary.
In Michigan, for example, one needs a license to lay wood or tile floors but not to install vinyl or carpet flooring. You need a license to construct a concrete driveway but not one made of asphalt. Roofing a house requires a license but not erecting awnings under the roof. You need a license to knock down a house, but not to pick it up and move it. Carpenters and insulators need to fulfill licensing requirements but not people who only build fences or install plaster walls. Adding siding to the outside of a house requires a license but not putting up the drywall on the inside of the house.
There is also a blanket exception to the license mandate for construction-related work that costs less than $600 or is performed by a volunteer. If licensing requirements were strictly necessary to maintain safe working conditions, there would be no rationale for allowing exemptions.
But there’s an even broader exemption to licensing requirements: volunteer labor. This is nicely exemplified by the goodwill of a Michigan school superintendent. To avoid hiring a licensed company to repaint the district’s school buildings and save $150,000, Superintendent David Harnish spent his summer in 2018, alongside some of the district’s students, painting the buildings himself. At the time, state law required painters to be licensed and spend 60 hours in training and pass a test. But because Harnish and these students were volunteering their labor, the licensing law did not apply. The Michigan Legislature repealed licensing requirements for painters later that year.
Librarians who work in Michigan public schools need a bachelor’s degree, a teacher certificate and a library media endorsement. These are stricter requirements than those in surrounding states, and the head librarians at small community libraries can work legally after earning only a high school diploma or GED.
Selling produce like apples, tomatoes, corn, lettuce and cabbage requires no state license. Sales of honey, maple syrup, apple cider and eggs are only regulated if your annual sales exceed certain levels. But selling meat, fish, mushrooms, garlic, herbs, bagels, doughnuts and cookies are strictly forbidden without first obtaining a state license.
A nursery grower license is needed to grow and sell some plants. This includes “trees, shrubs, perennials, mums, fruit trees, berry plants, rose bushes, vines, herbs, and bulbs that are capable of surviving the winter, without special care.” It does not include “annual plants, cut flowers, Christmas trees and greens [or] cut herbs.” The state of Michigan also does not regulate those growing and selling fruit, vegetables or wild trees, shrubs, vines or flowers from roadside stands.
The amount of training required by Michigan’s licensing laws often appears arbitrary or disproportionate in many cases. Below are some examples.
- Athletic trainers spend years getting a college degree and need 1,460 hours of training while emergency medical service workers need fewer than 200 hours.
- Per the Federal Aviation Administration, private pilots need 40 hours of flight time to get a license to fly people around on tours, while shampooing hair requires 400 training hours.
- Commercial airline pilots need 1,500 hours of flight time, the same number of training hours Michigan requires for cosmetologists.
- Michigan police officers need 594 hours of basic training curriculum. That is one-third the training hours the state mandates for barbers.