Senate panel votes to repeal ‘Death Star’ legislation hampering local governments

Several business groups stand opposed to the bills

By: - September 21, 2023 1:40 pm

State Rep. Joey Andrews (D-St. Joseph) said he was hopeful bills aimed at restoring local governments’ abilities to set labor and workforce policies would be passed before the end of the year. | Kyle Davidson

Members of the Senate Labor Committee on Wednesday moved to advance bills repealing preemptions on local government control of labor and workforce policies.  

The committee voted 3-1 along party lines to report Senate Bills 170 and 171, both sponsored by Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo), to the Senate floor with recommendation that they pass.

The bills would repeal a ban on local project labor agreements and a law preempting local government’s ability to set labor standards including higher-than-state-minimum wage and other benefits — nicknamed the “Death Star” bill in reference to “Star Wars.”

Labor leaders, lawmakers rally to repeal ‘Death Star’ bill tying local governments’ hands

Unions and local government officials in support of the bill argued this repeal would allow community leaders to make the decisions that work best for their community and improve labor conditions.

However, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Michigan opposed both bills, arguing that a repeal of the project labor agreements ban would hurt small companies and shut out local businesses. In written testimony submitted to the committee, it argued repealing the preemption on local governments would create a patchwork of wage and benefit regulations and would restrict the flexibility of remote work as employers work to comply with state and local laws.

A number of other business organizations, including the Michigan Retailers Association, the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM), the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Manufacturers Association (MMA), the Michigan Health and Hospital Association and the Michigan Infrastructure and Transport Association (MITA), also submitted written testimony against Senate Bill 171, and an identical bill introduced in the House, House Bill 4237, sponsored by Rep. Joey Andrews (D-St. Joseph).

In the testimony, the organizations noted their opposition was not about whether workers should receive fair wages, paid or unpaid leave, or other benefits, but who should make the decisions. 

They argued that giving local governments control over employment-related rules and regulations would be a “bureaucratic, red-tape nightmare for business owners and employees.” The groups also argued allowing local governments to set their own labor standards could create “high-cost islands” limiting community access to jobs and necessities and reducing investment into these communities.

Labor Committee Chair John Cherry (D-Flint), who co-sponsored both bills in the Senate, said these changes are intended to protect workers.

“When you talk about the ‘Death Star’ legislation from, you know, nearly a decade ago, we saw Texas passed that same legislation this year. Right, and what’s happened? Construction workers die. You know, they’re not getting water breaks,” Cherry said.

Local governments need the ability to provide worker protections, Cherry said.

“I don’t think that restricting that in the way that we have previously is appropriate,” he said.


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Kyle Davidson
Kyle Davidson

Kyle Davidson covers state government alongside health care, business and the environment. A graduate of Michigan State University, Kyle studied journalism and political science. He previously covered community events, breaking news, state policy and the environment for outlets including the Lansing State Journal, the Detroit Free Press and Capital News Service.