Michigan must untether itself from UAW

The state is hand-in-glove with a union that has a wandering eye

Both automakers and the union that represents autoworkers are preparing for a future beyond Michigan.

Lansing leadership picked a bad time to tie Michigan to the UAW by repealing right-to-work protections for the private sector.

Michigan autoworkers are again forced, as a condition of employment, to join the union.

That means the fate of the Michigan auto industry is tethered to a union with wandering eyes. No sooner than right-to-work repeal took effect did the UAW announce plans to spend $40 million over three years to unionize automakers elsewhere, “particularly in the South.”

Meanwhile, Ford CEO Jim Farley says the Dearborn automaker will reconsider its manufacturing footprint.

In both cases, the talk of a southern exodus owes to the UAW’s Stand Up Strike last year, which targeted automakers’ most profitable facilities.

Those historic contracts won by UAW President Shawn Fain came at a great cost. A bond of trust was broken in negotiations where union officials swore reputational damage to automakers.

South of the border and regions south of Michigan offer workforces without the UAW default.

“Until the UAW acts like a modern institution seeking win-win situations for both management and members, it will continue to be a liability to the companies and to the states that have UAW members,” said James Hohman, the Mackinac Center’s director of fiscal policy.

During the strike, Ford Chairman Bill Ford issued a warning about the future of the American auto industry. Ford’s history is in Michigan, but its future might not be, the scion said.

“Many of our competitors move jobs to Mexico, as we added jobs here in the U.S.,” Ford said in October. “These are choices we made, and it's added cost to our business in an industry that is extraordinarily competitive.”

Farley estimated Ford’s cost disadvantage at $7 billion per year relative to General Motors and Stellantis for hiring a higher proportion of UAW members.

Michigan’s repeal of right-to-work places workers in the shaky hands of a union whose leadership struggles to stay on the right side of either the law or common sense.

The Detroit Three’s partner in Michigan is a union president who calls for the workers of America to unite in walking off their jobs.

“Shawn Fain’s New Year’s Resolution Is to Lay the Ground for a National Strike,” read a December 2023 headline in The Nation.

“By having contracts with all the Big Three automakers expire on May Day, 2028, the UAW president also issued a challenge to the labor movement,” the story continued. “Will his union be ready to meet it?”

In the 2020s, the labor movement has oddly little interest in working. Is it a shock that automakers would seek out people eager to work, however far south they may be?

Hohman notes that Michigan has only 52% of the number of auto jobs it had in 2000. A similar contraction is coming today.

While the UAW is building a future beyond Michigan, Michigan has tied itself to the UAW. That’s a bad move for a state that wants to grow.

We have seen this movie before, during the days of our one-state recession. This sequel won’t end any better.

James David Dickson is a Detroit News columnist and managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email him at This column ran first in The Detroit News on Feb. 27.

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.