News Story

Private sector employees would be affected if right-to-work repealed in Michigan

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling gives public employees, such as schoolteachers, the right to opt out, but employees at private firms like Ford would be affected by a right-to-work repeal

Elizabeth Akers works for Bloomfield Hills Schools and because of a right-to-work law that went into effect in 2013, she was able to quit her union.

When asked why she resigned her membership, Akers said: “I did not agree with the union for many reasons. They never represented the needs of the group of teachers that I belonged to (elementary or elective teachers), only the high school teachers.”

Akers told CapCon she didn’t agree with the union’s political stances and didn’t want to fund the bill for colleagues facing disciplinary actions. Akers said she uses the $900 she saves each year on family needs.

Right-to-work means workers cannot be forced to pay money to a union to keep their job. Michigan’s right-to-work law was signed in December 2012 and took effect the next year.

If Michigan’s right-to-work law is repealed — as the Democrats who will run Lansing come January say is likely — Akers will still be safe from being forced to pay union dues, because she’s a public sector employee. (Other public sector employees include state and local government workers, including those in law enforcement.) In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in a case known as Janus v. AFSCME, giving 5 million public sector workers across the country the right to opt out of paying a union.

But in Michigan, a right-to-work repeal would affect private sector union employees, such those at Ford Motor Co. or General Motors.

In the new year, Democrats will hold the Michigan House, Senate and governor’s office.

Unions have lost many members, and their finances have suffered since Michigan became a right-to-work state. They have lost over 140,000 members, including 25,000 autoworkers, almost one-third of the teachers in the Michigan Education Association, and nearly half of all state workers, according to Jarrett Skorup, communications director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Workers who support unions cite several reasons, such as poor wages, a desire for better benefits and bad management. Businesses that improve management-employee relations can reduce the demand for a third party between themselves and employees.

“Conversations between employers and employees can help employers learn what improvements are needed to support the employees,” said Steve Delie, director of labor relations at the Mackinac Center. “Not only can these conversations improve working conditions, but they can also provide an opportunity to make a business more efficient.”

It’s not just employees of the largest corporations who will be affected if right-to-work is repealed. Employees at certain Starbucks and Chipotle stores have voted to unionize, for example, and employees who don’t pay the union now would have to start doing so. Widespread unionization could also change the economics of owning a small business in Michigan.

A Chipotle store in Lansing was unionized by Teamsters 243 in August. CapCon asked the union, in an email, if wages and benefits have changed since the employees began paying union dues. There has been no response.

Fortune reported Aug. 26 that Chipotle’s corporate office was not happy about the Lansing store’s unionization. It quoted a Chipotle statement that said the company was disappointed by the successful union drive “because we continue to believe that working directly together is best for our employees.”

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.