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Why Organized Labor Must Fight Right-To-Work Legislation: Michigan Union Membership Dropped Significantly In 2014, First Full Year Under RTW Law

Labor Must Publicize The Facts: Among Full-Time Wage And Salary Workers, Union Members Across The Country Earned A Median Of $970 A Week In 2014, According To The Bureau Of Labor Statistics, While Non-Unionized Workers Earned $763.

Published Monday, January 25, 2016
by Jonathan Oosting/

(LANSING, MICHIGAN) – Union Membership in the State of Michigan fell sharply in 2014, the first full year under its new Right-To-Work (for less) Law.

Overall, 14.5% of Wage and Salary Workers in Michigan were Members of a Union in 2014, down from 16.3% in 2013, according to Federal Statistics released late last week.  Union Membership in Michigan dropped from 633,000 in 2013 to 585,000 in 2014 - even as the total state employment numbers grew.  The number of Workers represented by a Union, including those who weren’t members themselves, also declined from 656,000 to 631,000 in 2014, dropping from 16.9 % to 15.7%.

Michigan’s Right-To-Work Law, which prohibits new contracts from requiring Union Dues as a condition of employment, was approved by lawmakers amidst mass Capitol protests in 2012 and took effect in March of 2013.  The law did not appear to have a major impact on Union Numbers last year, but the 2014 data suggest that more Workers have begun to opt out of membership.

Michelle Kaminski, an Associate Professor of Labor Relations at Michigan State University, said the full impact of the Right-To-Work Law will reveal itself over time as older employment contracts expire: “Contracts range in how long they last, but it’s typically about three years.  We ‘weren’t really expecting to see an immediate effect,’ but one that would be ‘phased in’ over a number of years.”

Kaminski said a separate law that prohibits school districts from deducting Union Dues from Teachers’ paychecks likely played a large role in declining membership numbers as well.  “Unionization is stronger in the Public Sector and ‘particularly strong’ in education,” said Kaminski, who pointed to possible political motivations for the laws - “Opponents are attacking Unions at their core.”

Nationally, Union Membership has dropped significantly over the past three decades, dropping from 20.1% of Workers in 1983 to 11.1% last year.

Michigan dropped out of the top 10 states for Union Membership in 2014, with its 14.5% rate ranked 11th in the country - but was still well above the national average.

The Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative group that pushed for the Right-To-Work Legislation, celebrated the new union numbers.  "As Michigan Workers become aware of their rights, more and more are choosing freedom, opting out of their Unions, and keeping dues money in their families’ bank accounts," its president said.

New York, with a 24.6% membership rate, was the most Unionized State in 2014.  Four States - North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi and Utah - had Union Rates below 4%.

Among Full-Time Wage and Salary Workers, Union Members across the country earned a median of $970 a week in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while Non-Unionized Workers earned $763.

“In addition to coverage by a Collective Bargaining Agreement, this ‘earnings difference’ reflects a variety of influences, including variations in the distributions of Union Members and Non-Union Employees by occupation, industry, age, firm size, or geographic region,” the BLS said.

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