Michigan can have workers’ rights or mandatory union dues, but not both

Right-to-work repeal in Michigan would diminish workers’ freedom and empower labor unions

Just because people repeat a phrase doesn’t make it true. This is the case when it comes to elected Democrats in Michigan claiming that forcing employees to pay union dues is the way to honor workers’ rights.

Actually, forced union dues trample workers’ rights. Right-to-work is not about unions. It’s about you. It’s about your ability, as a worker, to pay or not pay a union, and not lose your job either way.

The Democrats in the Legislature are working to push through a repeal of the right-to-work law in Michigan, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will sign.

With a repeal comes an end to workers’ rights in the private sector in Michigan. Thousands of employees who have opted out of a union under right-to-work will be forced to pay dues to keep their job. They also could suffer a decrease in personal income down the road.

Perhaps intending to sweeten the repeal, Rep. Alabas Farhat, D-Dearborn, submitted House Bill 4235 on Thursday. It would make union dues tax deductible in Michigan.

That bill is just at the start of the legislative process. But so was the measure to repeal right-to-work on Wednesday morning. By Wednesday night, the full House passed it.

An employee does not accept a position at a company and then expect to earn less one, five or ten years later. But that is what will likely happen with a right-to-work repeal, if the past is any guide. The worker’s right not to associate economically or otherwise with a union will be revoked.

Since right-to-work went into effect in 2013, at least 140,000 people in Michigan have exercised their right not to associate with a union. With a repeal, they will no longer have the right to decide what is best for their personal circumstances. They will be forced into an association. Even if they choose not to be active in a union, their paycheck will be.

Unions claim that they provide better wages for workers. But the numbers show this claim is not true.

Per-capital income income in Michigan, adjusted for inflation, increased 21.9%, since 2012. That’s the 16th best record among the 50 states. From 2002 to 2012, when Michigan law forced union dues on some workers, personal income only increased 0.5%. This performance was the 3rd worst in the nation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

When elected officials and state leaders make untruthful statements, it ruins their credibility and can be economically damaging to residents. In fact, a wise person will not just accept what someone says, but will look also at relevant data to understand the truth. The data shows that personal income growth could be stunted, significantly, with a right-to-work repeal, meaning more personal hardships.

Democratic politicians and unions also declare that without unions, employees will see more workplace-based injuries and illnesses. This is not true. In fact, occupational injury and illness rates declined 28% in the decade of right-to-work, and they are 21% below national rates, according to James Hohman, director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center.

Unions say it is not fair that people who work in a business where there is a union but choose not to pay dues still benefit from union bargaining. They call these people free riders.

Yet, this is a myth. It’s unions who want to lock nonpayers in. Unions spend little on direct representation and collective bargaining, says Jarrett Skorup, vice president of marketing at the Mackinac Center and a close observer of unions.

When unions faced the choice of whether to support changing the law so that they would only be required to bargain on behalf of members, most refused, Skorup says. Unions enjoy being the sole bargaining entity in the workplace, and insist on it, even to the exclusion of the individual.

In a society where everyone has workers’ rights, people could choose to form a union and ask it to bargain on their half — and workers who do not want to belong to a union could negotiate for themselves.

If the law decreases workers’ incomes by forcing them to pay an organization they do not want to join, does it make those workers more free, or less free?

Jamie A. Hope is assistant managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email her at

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.