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Michigan workers hurt by ‘right to work’ laws

By Tom Burke |
January 25, 2015
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Grand Rapids, MI - Michigan workers are now seeing the harm caused by last year’s so-called ‘right to work’ law. Passed by Republican politicians in Lansing in 2013, the new law caused a noticeable drop in union membership - from 16.3% down to 14.5%. The trend is likely to continue as more union contracts, typically three years long, come to an end.

Later this year, the United Auto Workers (UAW) will feel the effects of the law as the contracts with big car-producing companies expire.

‘Right to work’ says workers are not required to belong to the union at a unionized work place, despite the votes and decisions of the majority. It creates a division amongst the workers and weakens their ability to act in concert for good contracts and to enforce safety work rules, fairness and equality.

In 2013, there were 3.9 million employed workers in Michigan, of whom 633,000 were union members. Now in 2014, there are 4 million employed workers of whom 585,000 are union members. The number of employed workers in Michigan increased by 139,000 overall, while the number of union members decreased by 48,000, hurting the unionization rate even more.

The statistics show that a higher percentage of workers covered by union contracts stopped paying their dues. These ‘free riders’ benefit from the union contract that their co-workers negotiate and pay for.

Michigan Republicans also stripped teachers of the ability to pay their union dues via direct deposit with their employer. Government workers know it as dues check-off and, despite its popularity, Republicans passed a law denying this basic right to teachers.

Across Lake Michigan, in the state of Wisconsin, Republicans are threatening a similar law and union members are beginning to mobilize to fight it. Jacob Flom is the creator of a Facebook page “Defeat Right To Work in Wisconsin” ( )that says “We are rank-and -file union members and Wisconsin residents who want to keep our state union strong. Fight Governor Walker's union busting agenda with mass protest!”

Unions are based on workers joining together to act as one in relationship to their bosses and owners. Union contracts provide millions of workers around the world with higher wages, better health care, sick time off, vacations and a chance to defend themselves from arbitrary discipline and firing. Union members like nurses and health care workers can enforce health and safety rules for themselves and the public they serve.

Republicans plan to finish off unions, attacking and outlawing them state by state. The Democratic Party stands idle, feigning surprise. Judges rulings in U.S. courts are threatening to do away with public sector unions over the next five years as well.

Union members in the U.S. tend to live better lives than non-union workers and command more respect from their bosses. Bureau of Labor Statistics show median income for a union worker in 2014 was $970 per week, while non-union was $763.