In 2012, Michigan Republicans pushed through a right-to-work law that sought to decrease the influence of labor unions in the state.
Right-to-work states allow employers to hire workers without requiring them to join a union or pay dues. Union membership has dropped since 2013, but it’s unclear if that was due to the law.
For the first time in nearly 40 years, Democrats control the state Legislature and governorship. They want to repeal right-to-work and reinstall a “prevailing wage” law that guarantees workers assigned to state construction projects are paid a competitive rate.
Several business groups oppose both actions, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
Professor Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at the University of California – Berkeley, believes changing the two laws would immediately impact the state’s workforce.
Listen: Michigan Democrats consider repealing right-to-work law
“It directly affects unionized workers, but it will benefit all workers in Michigan,” says Shaiken. “If auto workers earn more, teacher wages go up. As people in the community begin earning more, this impacts the service economy, as well as manufacturing.”
Any repeal would only affect Michigan’s private sector after a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled public sector unions could not force workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement to pay dues. According to the Detroit Free Press, that’s about 46,000 workers.
The UAW has been embroiled in scandal for the past decade, with several leaders either convicted of corruption or under indictment. Shaiken thinks it’s possible that the scandal has also hurt union membership, but interest in organized labor is at a high point.
“There is a new wave of interest in unions in this country. Gallup does an annual poll about how people feel about unions. The last one in September had near record highs of approval,” Shaiken says. “Over 65% of those who were polled think unions are a good thing.” (Ed. note: The percentage is actually 71%.)