ROC United Celebrates Historic Victory as MI Governor Whitmer Signs Bill to Overturn Right-to-Work Law, Creating More Opportunities for Restaurant Workers

LANSING, MI — The Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United and thousands of restaurant workers that it serves in Michigan today applauded a decision by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to sign a bill repealing the state’s right-to-work law, which weakened the political power of unions and organized labor groups and, ultimately, prohibited workers from earning higher wages and benefits.

The repeal stands as the final chapter in a decade-long fight against the right-to-work law, making Michigan the first state in nearly 60 years to repeal such a law.

“We couldn’t thank Gov. Whitmer enough for delivering on her promise to put Michigan workers and their families first and at the top of her priorities,” said Chris White, director of ROC Michigan. “The Governor made the right call. Repealing the right-to-work law demonstrates that we have restored the power of working people, including our very own food and restaurant workers, creating a pathway to more opportunities for themselves and their families.”

In a major victory for ROC Michigan members and supporters, who tirelessly have been a part of the effort against the right-to-work law since 2012, Gov. Whitmer’s action ensures that every worker in the state has a voice for better pay benefits and safer working conditions—and a seat at the bargaining table.

“I’ve been a server for over 20 years, and I’m supporting myself and my family with my job at a restaurant. The pandemic exacerbated the structural issues that we’ve been facing nearly every single day: wage theft, sexism and racism, and unsafe working conditions,” said Crystal Coleman, of Detroit, MI. “The repeal of the right-of-work law means fixing our labor laws to expand workers’ rights. It will guarantee all workers a thriving wage and a safe working environment that we deserve.”

There are currently 27 states with right-to-work laws across the country, mostly in the South and Midwest.

In 2012, there were about 629,000 worker union members in Michigan. But since the right-to-work law was enacted by former Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, figures had been declining for decades. In 2022, there were 589,000, or 14 percent, of workers were union members and 15.3 percent were represented by unions.

“Hardworking families are the backbone of Michigan’s economy. Repealing the right-to-work law means re-establishing our freedom to negotiate with employers without the government forcing their way into the process. Workers must have a choice to join a union or an organized labor group to protect their jobs,” said Roquesha O’Neal, a mother of three children, and who has been a restaurant worker in Detroit, MI for two decades.

The impact of Covid-19 on restaurant workers has been devastating. More than 91 percent of restaurant workers received no compensation for working in hazardous conditions, and 85 percent of them experienced wage loss due to the pandemic.

With the backing of unions and labor groups, along with related worker-focused legislation, such as the Restaurant Workers Bill of Rights, it will help keep the workers safe, raise their wages to deal with inflation, and ensure job protections like paid sick and family leave, health insurance and retirement benefits.

“ROC United members will continue to work hand-in-hand with Governor Whitmer to build worker power and make our communities, our state, and our economy much stronger,” said Alicia Renee Farris, chief operation officer at ROC United. “Our commitment to uphold our values and fight tooth-and-nail against those who would try to rig the rules in favor of corporations and big businesses that undermine our democratic processes.”