LANSING – Michigan’s union membership rate went up in the last year, rising from 13.3% of the state’s workforce to 14%, while the national rate slid from 10.3% to 10.1%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There were 165,000 more people employed in the state in 2022 than in 2021, raising the workforce to 4,212,000. For every 100 jobs added, about 29 were unionized.
The increase includes just under 50,000 union members, federal data show.
The state’s union membership numbers are stabilizing after passage of a right-to-work law, a COVID-19 shakeup of the workforce and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that public sector employees cannot be required to pay union dues, said Michigan State University labor education associate professor Michelle Kaminski.
Michigan’s right-to-work law says employees cannot be required to join a union as a condition of employment, allowing them to decide whether to belong.
However, Kaminski said she doesn’t put much weight on individual annual increases or decreases in membership but focuses more on patterns over time. By that measure, Kaminski said there has been a “modest” overall decline in union membership in the last decade, but varying from year to year.
After the Bureau of Labor Statistics released union membership numbers for 2022, state AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said the recent numbers show “resilience” of Michigan’s unions despite decades of anti-union policies adopted in Lansing.
However, with Lansing’s Democrat-controlled legislature, a repeal of the decade-old right-to-work law seems imminent, a move expected to favor unions.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, did not mention repeal as one of her legislative priorities during her recent State of the State address. However, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said at a press interview after her speech that right-to-work repeal remains a top priority for the administration.
If it is repealed, it is possible that in a few years, union membership in Michigan could start to increase, although how significantly is not known.
Sen. Darrin Camilleri said that after right-to-work repeal, union membership would continue to grow and would allow labor organizing in parts of the private sector that have not traditionally been unionized.
Camilleri, D-Trenton, is the chief sponsor of the Senate bill to repeal the right-to-work law.
“It’s not just traditional manufacturing jobs or construction jobs that we’re talking about,” Camilleri said. “We’re talking about service jobs, and that’s going to be a brand-new part of this economy.”
A possible repeal won’t affect union membership among private sector workers as much as it will affect union finances, according to Peter Berg, a professor of employment relations at MSU.
One reason is that the private sector is much less organized than the public sector that would not be affected by a right-to-work repeal, Berg said, so unions will continue to miss out on dues from public sector workers who choose to not join the union.
“In order to really raise membership, you got to organize the private sector to a much greater degree,” Berg said. Repealing right-to-work won’t necessarily lead to more private sector organizing but will mean workers represented by unions must pay dues.
Seth Harris, a former top Biden labor policy adviser to President Joe Biden, said he thinks membership will grow if the Legislature kills the right-to-work law.
“We will see more union membership, we will see stronger unions and that means we will see more worker organizing in Michigan,” said Harris, who teaches at Northeastern University..
According to Small Business Association of Michigan President Brian Calley, the increase in union membership is proof that right-to-work is working because unions now have to actively work to recruit members.
Other sponsors of the repeal bill are Democratic Sens. Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids; Kristen McDonald Rivet of Bay City; Sam Singh of East Lansing; Mallory McMorrow of Royal Oak; Stephanie Chang of Detroit; Mary Cavanagh ofRedford; Sean McCann of Kalamazoo; Dayna Polehanki of Livonia; Erika Geiss of Taylor, Veronica Klinefelt of Eastpointe; Sarah Anthony of Lansing; and Sylvia Santana of Detroit.
Rep. Regina Weiss, D-Oak Park, is the lead sponsor of the House version.
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