John O’Connor

Later this week, senators in the state of Michigan are expected to approve legislation that ends the state’s right-to-work statute. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has indicated she will approve the measure once it reaches her desk.

Some observers see the Michigan law’s unraveling as the start of what could become a wider backlash. And should more states take up the cause, there’s no question long-term care operators will suffer.

For any way you slice it, right-to-work laws have been a friend to those who own and/or operate nursing facilities.

Why? Because they give employees in organized shops the option of not paying union dues. Such savings can be a pretty strong economic incentive, especially for workers who are barely scraping by. Which by the way, is not exactly unheard of in this field.

I realize views on right-to-work laws can run deep and dark on both sides. So I am not going to offer my judgment on whether repealing them is good or bad. Let’s face it, the other side would crucify me for doing so. But I do think it’s fair to at least point out that this issue is in play — and that it could become a hotly fought battle elsewhere.

About half the nation’s state’s – 27 in all – currently have these laws on the books. They are most prevalent in places with a Republican governor and GOP control of the House and Senate. As a practical matter, that has mostly meant Southern and Great Plains states.

But as the 2020 national elections showed us, political party concentration is not a permanent thing at the state level. For example, Florida — once reliably Democratic — overwhelmingly chose a Republican governor (Ron DeSantis) in its most recent election.

But it’s not just Florida where allegiances appear to be uncertain. At least a dozen others might be called swing states. They include Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Arizona, Georgia, Virginia, Michigan, Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina and Maine.

That’s one reason why right-to-work laws might become more vulnerable. Another is that for the most part, state-level Democrats have not gone after these laws in recent years — even after taking control of the executive and legislative branches. But as Michigan shows, that appears to be changing.

To be clear, it’s not a given that more states will attempt to reverse right-to-work laws. But it’s hardly beyond the pale that they might.

Either way, operators would be advised to pay attention. 

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.