News Story

Public Sector Unions’ Mixed Fortunes After Michigan Right-To-Work Law

Too soon to tell how much U.S. Supreme Court’s extension of RTW to public sector nationwide will affect union finances

Since Michigan’s right-to-work law went into effect in 2013, growing numbers of public employees have exercised their right to opt out of paying union dues and fees, according to data compiled by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

In June 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court established right-to-work for public employees across the nation, holding in Janus v. AFSCME that compelling these workers to pay union fees violates their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association.

Some of Michigan’s government unions have seen the number of fee-paying employees fall 10 percent since right-to-work went into effect. Others, including the Michigan State Employees Association (MSEA) and the SEIU Local 517M, have seen declines of 20 percent or more. The number of workers paying fees to MSEA fell by 345, from 3,079 to 2,734. SEIU Local 517M decreased by 782 individuals, going from 3,532 to 2,750. Before right-to-work, 96 percent of Michigan’s public sector workforce paid fees to a union; that figure stands at 76 percent today.

Some larger public sector unions, such as UAW Local 6000, have seen a significant decrease in dues-paying employees in the workplaces they have organized. That union had 15,673 members in 2013, representing 91 percent of the covered workforce. The number of individuals paying dues and fees dropped to 13,785 five years later, or 82 percent of the workers covered by the union’s collective bargaining agreements.

Michigan’s right-to-work law did not apply to public safety jobs, so police and fire unions have not seen a decline in membership. The Michigan State Police Troopers Association even saw an increase in the number of public safety workers paying union dues, which before right-to-work were optional, going from 1,374 to 1,702 members in a five-year span. Today, 99 percent of employees who are covered by its collective bargaining agreement are paying dues, up from 94 percent.

Unlike Michigan's 2013 right-to-law, the Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus ruling does apply to public safety workers, however, meaning they no longer have to pay union fees. Given that Janus has been in effect for less than a year, it is unclear how public safety unions will fare going forward.

Tony Daunt, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, said that decline in the number of fee-paying public sector employees covered by Michigan’s right-to-work law demonstrates that unions do not always operate in the best interest of workers.

“Right-to-work is a fundamental and necessary protection of our First Amendment freedoms of speech and association,” Daunt said. “Nobody should be forced to join, fund or otherwise support an organization against their will.”

Looking beyond the effects of right-to-work laws on the public sector, Daunt said that they have led to “robust growth and economic opportunity” in the private sector, which compelling workers to pay fees to unions had inhibited.

“Despite the loud and cynical protestations from labor union officials, right-to-work laws are a positive for everyone involved," he said.

Officials from several Michigan unions did not return phone calls or emails.