That, in turn, could deal another blow to already weakened unions.
Those who oppose unions say that's a victory for businesses who want more flexibility in how they manage their work forces, and for workers who don't want to be constrained by union rules or collective bargaining agreements. That, they say, will ultimately create more jobs and help the state's economy.
"The right to work law will provide significant economic benefits for the state's workers and small businesses," Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, said in a video posted on the organization's website following the move in Michigan.
But union proponents say such ripple effects could extend beyond just the minority of Americans who are directly covered by union contracts. They say that without unions, workers are at risk for lower wages and less job security.
Shaiken, the Berkeley professor, argues that unions are often key advocates, on both a state and national level, on issues that affect workers more generally. Those include affordable health care, unemployment insurance, Social Security and the minimum wage.
Michigan's new law also could have political implications for Democrats who have relied on unionized labor's political and financial support, Shaiken said.
Major unions such as the AFL-CIO and the UAW were staunch supporters of President Barack Obama's successful re-election bid. Any moves that hurt their membership numbers, or ability to collect dues, also could impact their ability to support Democrats in future elections.
There also could be a ripple effect on some unions' ability to financially support political moves that would help preserve their own livelihood, said Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University.
His research has shown that it's quite difficult to judge the impact of right-to-work legislation on things like wages. But he said such laws can reduce the amount of money unions collect because workers are no longer required to pay dues, and many people opt to pocket that money instead.
He thinks that could affect how much clout public sector unions, such as teachers, have to help support political efforts for things like maintaining pension benefits. Those are the type of hot-button issues state and local governments are sure to take up as they work to deal with severe budget shortfalls in the coming years.
"I do really believe that the biggest argument, the biggest push, for this (right-to-work legislation) was designed to weaken unions in their negotiations with state governments," Hicks said.
Farber, the Princeton professor, expects that there will bea modest drop in the number of workers who are unionized in Michigan once the legislation goes into effect. Also, because workers could choose to not pay dues and still be represented, unions could see less money coming in.
In addition, he said, new businesses or plants may be less likely to unionize because of the weakened union power.
Farber's research also has shown that strongly unionized work forces sometimes create a "threat effect" where other workplaces offer higher wages and better benefits because they worry that if the workers aren't treated as well they will unionize. He said that threat is lessened in right-to-work states.
"To see Michigan go this way – it's quite remarkable,really," he said.