News Story

30% Of State Workers Flee Their Unions

More than 9,000 in Michigan have canceled memberships and dues payments

More than 9,000 state workers — or nearly 30% of those covered by a collective bargaining agreement — have now withdrawn from or not renewed their union membership. These numbers come days after a new rule went into effect that prohibits state employee unions from collecting dues from workers who do not authorize it on an annual basis.

Unions representing nearly 32,000 state employees had sought an injunction to prevent the rule from going into effect this month. They claimed that the rule adopted by the Michigan Civil Service Commission in July would impair contractual agreements and deny workers the right to express themselves through their unions. The rule represents the state government’s response to a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bars government employee unions from collecting dues without affirmative consent from individual employees. The high court had suggested that a rule calling for annual reauthorizations of paycheck deductions by employees would likely not violate constitutional rights to free speech and contract.

U.S. District Court Judge George Steeh denied the request for an injunction on Oct. 1. The state can no now longer deduct union dues from the paychecks of employees who have not specifically authorized it for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

According to figures supplied to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy by civil service commission staff, 3,275 employees (about 10.3% of employees represented by the five unions which brought the lawsuit) did not submit a reauthorization notice by Oct. 4. Additionally, the commission said only 22,406 had filed authorizations for dues or fee collection in 2020-21, out of 31,680 state workers covered by union contracts. Consequently, nearly 30% of covered state employees have opted out of union membership since the state’s 2013 right-to-work law made payments to unions optional.

The unions issued a joint statement when the federal lawsuit was filed, decrying the July change. The commission’s requirement, it said, was “part of a long running campaign against working families in Michigan and across the country, pushed by billionaire-backed anti-worker groups.”

But as Steeh noted in his decision to deny the injunction, appellate courts have found that government employers don’t have a constitutional duty to collect union dues in the first place.

The unions “do not explain ... why union members should have a First Amendment right to pay dues through payroll deduction, when the unions do not have a First Amendment right to collect dues in the same manner,” he wrote.

Steeh also rejected the unions’ claim that the process for reauthorization placed an undue burden on would-be dues payers.

The fact that a majority of covered employees had reauthorized payments, and that the option to submit a renewal is open-ended, shows that the requirement is not “so burdensome as to rise to the level of irreparable harm,” he wrote.

In adopting the new rule, the Civil Service Commission said it was compelled by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, strengthening the rights of public employees to opt out of union membership. The commission said the rule was needed to ensure that authorization for dues deduction were “not stale, (but) current, knowing and voluntary.

Representatives of UAW Local 6000, the lead plaintiff in the case, could not be reached Tuesday. The UAW’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

There are six unions representing state unions. The information here does not include the 1,751 troops and sergeants in the Michigan State Police, which was treated differently by Michigan's right-to-work law.

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.