News & Commentary

March 9, 2023

Maddie Chang

Maddie Chang is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news and commentary, the Michigan House votes to repeal the state’s “right-to-work” law; Arkansas passes a bill to roll back child labor protections; and sharp words are exchanged at the Senate HELP Committee hearing. 

Last night, in a big victory for labor, the Michigan House voted 56-53 to repeal the state’s “right-to-work” law. Passed in 2012, the “right-to-work” law allowed employees in unionized workplaces to opt-out of paying union dues, which effectively limited workers’ ability to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. In the years since the law’s passage, Michigan unions have lost 40,000 members. The House also passed a bill to restore Michigan’s prevailing wage law, requiring contractors on public sector construction projects to pay union wages. The laws will now head to the Democrat-led state Senate and then to Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s desk to be signed. 

Yesterday, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a bill that will roll back a key child labor protection in the state. HB 1410 removes the requirement that children younger than 16 obtain a work permit from the state’s Department of Labor. In an email statement, the Governor’s spokesperson said, “The Governor believes protecting kids is most important, but this permit was an arbitrary burden on parents to get permission from the government for their child to get a job.” As noted in CNN, the employment certificate served as a protection for children, such as immigrant children, who may not have parents in the state to sign-off on their work or working conditions.

This rollback comes on the heels of a Department of Labor investigation into Packers Sanitation, which found that the company illegally employed more than 100 children who were using caustic chemicals to clean razor-sharp saws at 13 meat processing facilities in 8 states, including in Arkansas. As Lewit reported last week, the Department of Labor is launching a task force to crack down on child labor violations in the wake of this investigation and amidst a wider uptick in child labor violations. 

Finally, at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on Wednesday, Oklahoma Senator Markwayne Mullin and Teamsters president Sean O’Brien exchanged a series of verbal blows. Senator Mullin told O’Brien to “shut your mouth,” and in response to a question about how unions create opportunity, O’Brien said to Senator Mullin, “we hold greedy CEOs like you accountable.” Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders played referee. Watch the back-and-forth here.

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