News Story

The New Republic Says Unions Are Making a Comeback

But the ancient magazine of political insiders gives no evidence, and Michigan numbers indicate the opposite

“All across America, workers are standing up for their rights, banding together, and winning,” The New Republic announced in a May 10 story. “Public support for labor unions is at a nearly 60-year high,” it continued, citing articles published by Time and Gallup.

But statistics on union membership in Michigan suggest The New Republic may be getting ahead of itself.

Michigan enacted a right-to-work law on Dec. 11, 2012, allowing workers to decide for themselves if they want to become a member of and pay dues to a union. Hundreds of union members protested at the Michigan Capitol as lawmakers considered the measure. Some participated in a violent revolt, resulting in arrests as police forcefully dispersed rioters.

Since that time, unions in the state have seen a significant drop in membership. Only one out of the largest 15 unions here has grown. Before right-to-work was enacted, those unions had a collective membership of 806,541 people. The number shrank to 640,999 by 2021.

Only the Michigan Nurses Association added members. It went from 11,149 members to 11,326, a 1.6% increase.

Here’s how some of the other 14 unions have been doing:

Membership in the Service Employees International Union went from 47,805 to 16,486, a 65.5% decrease. The union was sued after it illegally diverted more than $6 million in Medicaid funds to itself, taking money meant for disabled individuals who had hired others, often their family members, to help them at home. Critics called the practice a “dues skim,” as the union justified the takings as a form of dues collection. The union ended up paying damages to the plaintiffs after the scam was brought to light.

The Michigan State Employees Association represents state, county and university employees. Membership in this union declined by 52.7%, going from 3,778 to 1,786 members.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees represents government employees such as corrections officers, sanitation workers and school bus drivers. Its membership went from 48,265 to 24,728, a 48.8% drop.

The Teamsters union, whose members hold a variety of jobs in both the private and public sector, saw its Michigan membership drop from 45,625 to 31,188, a 31.6% decrease.

The Michigan Education Association represents teachers and other employees in educational settings. It had 117,265 members before the right-to-work law was enacted. That number dwindled to 80,905 by 2021, a 31.0% decease.

The New Republic’s sunny projections for unions came in an article that urges congressional Democrats to pass a resolution that would allow congressional staffers to organize a Congressional Workers Union.

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.