When workers in Michigan had a choice, they left unions

Union numbers and former members tell the story Democrats will not

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lansing Democrats last month took away Michigan workers’ right to choose union membership or reject it, claiming that repealing the state’s right-to-work law would protect workers’ rights. But union membership numbers during the ten-year period of the law suggest employees do not wish to be forced into a union.

Although the state has seen a 20% increase in the number of jobs since 2012, union membership has declined by 26.4%. Some 143,000 members chose to leave their unions while they had the right. The state’s largest unions shed an additional 5,250 members last year, according to their Form LM-2 financial reports for 2021 and 2022.

Freedom will come to an end for many workers. Employees at unionized workplaces will likely be forced again to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

The American Federation of Teachers lost 15.3% of its Michigan members during the right-to-work era, the biggest percentage loss of any union in the state. Membership in the teachers union crashed from 20,063 to 16,994 between 2012 and 2022. AFSCME Council 25 had the second biggest percentage loss at 14.4%, losing 150 members.

Many workers who chose to leave their unions are upset about the repeal of the 2012 law.

Lee Mills, a part-time clerk at Kroger, left his union when given the right. He did this, he says, after paying $624 each year for a membership that provided no paid time off, and no health, medical or dental benefits. He says union membership was of no value to him.

Kroger management has always treated him well, Mills says, and he is capable of negotiating his own pay. After he was finally able to leave the union, it still took dues out of his paycheck for several months. Mills says he filed a complaint with Attorney General Dana Nessel to force the union to comply.

After Nessel’s office sent a letter to the union, it immediately complied.

Due to the repeal, Mills and other private sector workers who feel wronged by their union will have little recourse.

Public workers, who enjoy protections under the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling, are in a better position. Sue Z., a special needs paraprofessional in a public school district, left her union because doing so allowed her to serve more students without rigid union mandates. Sue, a public sector employee, will maintain her First Amendment right to free association.

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.