Brian Pannebecker speaks to the crowd as Randy Bishop, Terry Bowman and Gary Glenn sit at the table.  
The Macomb Daily/RAY J. SKOWRONEK 

By“>Mitch Hotts,; @mhotts POSTED: 

Once Michigan’s new right-to-work takes root and its legal challenges are overcome, the legislation will dramatically help kickstart the state’s economy, a panel speaker in Utica said on Tuesday night.  The controversial law formally took effect in March and will take some time for its overall benefits to take root, but in years to come, the move will prove to be beneficial, according to Gary Glenn, president of the Michigan Chapter of the American Family Association.

Similar legislation in other states has helped usher in new economic climates in those states, but Glenn predicted Michigan could become an economic “powerhouse” with a new workplace climate combined with the state’s trained workforce, resources and access to the Great Lakes.

“I’m looking forward to that kind of future in Michigan,” Glenn said.

Glenn was one of four panelists attending the Michigan Freedom-to-Work Townhall held at American Legion Hall in Utica to offer additional information about the law. Other speakers included radio talk show host Randy “Trucker Randy” Bishop, Matt Muggeridge of the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation, and Ford Motor Company workers Terry Bowman and Brian Pannebecker.

The law, which lets workers choose not to pay dues to the unions that bargain on their behalf, applies to labor contracts that are extended or renewed starting in March. Many employees will not be affected until their existing collective bargaining agreements end.

Muggeridge said even though the law has been approved, there are still misconceptions about its impact and what it does. In past collective bargaining agreements there was a concept known as the union security provision, which forced union members to pay dues to their union.

“The only thing right-to-work does is knock out that security provision,” Muggeridge said.

Panelists said there are still legal challenges to the right-to-work legislation that may take some time to resolve before the message gets out to the world that Michigan will have a new climate of improved job creation.

The Michigan Court of Appeals in August rejected a lawsuit filed by labor unions representing state workers, ruling the law applies to 35,000 state employees.

In a state known for its heavy presence of organized labor, a number of union-led lawsuits have been filed to strike down Michigan’s right-to-work law. Similar legal challenges in Indiana, which passed a right-to-work law just before Michigan did, have been unsuccessful.

In Indiana, union membership declined to 9.1 percent of the workforce last year from 11.3 percent in 2011. Most of Indiana’s unions have not yet seen a big drop-off in membership, but many contracts are still in place from before the law took place.

Less than 20 percent of Michigan’s workers are unionized.

Pannebecker, a Shelby Township political activist who was a driving force behind the legislation’s passage in Michigan, agreed that the benefits will take time to realize, especially if there are ongoing political and legal efforts to repeal or nullify the law.

“We did not expect right-to-work to have an immediate impact,” he said. “It will take several years for the effect to be seen.”

About 50 people attended the event, including a handful of union members who called the panelists’ comments “one sided.”

Organizers claimed they invited United Auto Workers President Bob King and officials from UAW Local 228, but they declined. Still, organizers had empty seats on the panel with signs taped on them indicating they were reserved for UAW leaders.