News Story

Right-to-Work States Gain Union Members While Other States Lose Hundreds of Thousands

RTW states added 39,000 members while forced unionism states lost 390,000 members

The 22 states that were right-to-work saw an increase in the number of union members from 2011 to 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The right-to-work states had an overall increase of 39,000 union members while non-right-to-work states lost 390,000, a 3.4 percent decrease.

Indiana was not included in the analysis because it passed right-to-work legislation in 2012.

In the 22 right-to-work states, overall union membership increased from 2,813,000 to 2,852,000. Michigan saw its union membership drop from 671,000 to 629,000 and Indiana saw union membership fall from 302,000 to 246,000.

The latest BLS report casts doubt on the belief held by many pro-union groups that right-to-work laws automatically means a decline in union membership.

"If you do not believe labor is greatly compromised by right-to-work, you are seriously misinformed," United Food and Commercial Workers Local 876 President Roger Robinson wrote recently.

In a draft of a contract proposal that would not allow right-to-work for nine-years, union leadership of the Western Michigan University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors stated they anticipated a “significant” drop in membership if their members were given a choice to leave.

"Without a new USA (union security agreement), significant reduction in membership dues support is likely in the wake of RTW …" reads the memo.

Yet some right-to-work states have seen gradual increases in membership since 2000, according to the BLS.

Oklahoma, for example, passed right-to-work in 2001. In 2000, it had 96,000 union members. Slowly the number of union members in Oklahoma has grown to 115,000 in 2012.

F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said that inattentive unions will lose membership once right-to-work is offered.

"Unions will start to shape up or better unions will come in and take their place," he said.

In Michigan, many unions have sought to use heavy-handed retribution tactics against their members rather than woo them.

Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook said his union would use "any legal means at our disposal" to get at union members who want to leave the MEA.

The Berkley Education Association teachers' union has proposed a 9-year "clause that would not offer right-to-work to its members." Then the union spelled out in its proposal how it would go after members who wanted the option of leaving the union. The draft proposal stated that if deducting dues was to be deemed unlawful, the union member could be fired. And if it were unlawful for the union member to be fired, a clause in the contract would allow the union the right "to pursue any other lawful remedies."

University of Michigan Economist Don Grimes said that he doubted the data on union jobs was correct. He said the BLS stated that updated controls in measuring the data meant the number of 2012 union jobs "are not strictly comparable" to the 2011 union jobs.

The BLS however, stated, "These adjustments to the levels, however, should have had only negligible effects on union membership rates."

"Not certain how, but whenever you see some data that you don't believe, the data is probably wrong somehow," Grimes said. "Sometimes, even with government published data, you need to look at the fine print."


Editor's Note: The original article misstated some of the numbers related to the jobs in right-to-work and non-right-to-work states. The article has since been corrected.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.