Opinion: Forced unionization makes a comeback in Michigan

Charles Owens

During the administration of former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, thousands of self-employed day care and home health care workers were forced to join a union if they accepted state payments for their services. After years of legal and legislative efforts by the NFIB and other organizations, these forced union agreements were ended.

In a move reminiscent of these prior attempts to force workers to join a union, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulation (LARA) is working on new rules that would make union membership of employees a requirement to obtain a license to grow or sell marijuana under Michigan’s new laws legalizing the drug.

Language included in the draft rules for Michigan marijuana licensing would mandate union agreements between the employer and employees of marijuana retailers and growers as a condition of obtaining the license required by the state to be in business.

No labor union, no license, no business.

State regulators are trying to make union membership a requirement to obtain a license to grow or sell marijuana, Owens writes.

Regardless of one’s viewpoint on the issue of marijuana legalization and distribution, if a state agency can require the employees of a specific company in a specific industry to be union members in order to receive a license to conduct business in the state, it can impose the same requirement on any trade or business that requires a license from the state to operate. Like most states, Michigan licenses all sorts of businesses from preschools to tattoo parlors and everything in between. The precedent that could be established would affect thousands of small businesses. In addition, if this attempt to force employees into labor unions is successful, be ready for proposals to create licenses for almost any type of business endeavor in order to expand the forced unionization of employees to even more small businesses.

The move by the Whitmer administration is a copy-cat version of legislation recently passed in California that mandates that employers with 20 or more employees maintain a “labor peace agreement” as a condition of obtaining a state cannabis license. A “labor peace agreement” is a nice way of saying you must have a union to get a license. Unlike the California mandate, the Michigan rules include no exemption from the union mandate based on the size of the business.

Since labor unions know they cannot get similar legislation passed in Michigan, they are depending on the Whitmer administration to get from the agency rules process what they cannot get in the Legislature from lawmakers elected by the citizens. Just weeks ago, the Whitmer administration announced a similar effort to go around the Legislature to implement new overtime requirements via the rules process.

If there are substantive benefits to membership in a union, then one must wonder why big labor continues to pursue shady policies that force workers into a union by colluding behind the scenes with state bureaucrats. Michigan passed a right-to-work law to give workers the right to decide for themselves whether to join a union. Lansing bureaucrats must stop using sleight of hand tactics to get around the law and rob workers of their right to choose. 

Charles Owens is the state director for the National Federation of Independent Business in Michigan.