Jeff Jacoby / March 15, 2023

Michigan Revives Compulsory Unionism

Under right-to-work laws, no employee can be compelled to pay money to a labor union. That’s why unions hate them.

Just over a decade ago, Michigan lawmakers passed a right-to-work law, making their state the 24th in the nation to protect employees from compulsory unionism. It was one of the best things they ever did.

Labor leaders and their allies warned of dire consequences if Michigan became a right-to-work state and unions lost the power to force workers to pay union dues as a condition of keeping a job. They claimed wages would fall, the economy would suffer, and there would be “no positive impact whatsoever on job growth.”

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

According to data compiled by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, inflation-adjusted average incomes in Michigan, which had risen by less than 1 percent in the nine years that preceded right-to-work, soared by 22 percent in the nine years that followed. Michigan had lost 379,000 jobs in the nine years before the passage of right-to-work in 2012 but gained 155,100 jobs in the same period afterward. The state’s unemployment rate averaged 8.5 percent between 2002 and 2012; it fell to an average of 6 percent in the decade since. Writing recently in Crain’s Detroit Business, former Michigan Senate majority leader Mike Shirkey pointed out that manufacturing jobs in particular expanded by 6.4 percent — a sharp contrast to the 1.1 percent decline in non-right-to-work states (like Massachusetts).

Becoming a right-to-work state, former governor Rick Snyder observed in The Detroit News last week, was the equivalent of changing the sign on Michigan’s figurative front door from “Closed” to “Open for Business.” So long as it was legal in Michigan to force workers to kick back part of each paycheck to a union, Snyder said, “many out-of-state companies would not consider Michigan as a potential location.” Once right-to-work passed, “Michigan became a real magnet for job attraction,” at times leading the nation in creating manufacturing jobs.

Yet all that may come to a crashing halt this week. The Michigan Legislature is poised to roll back the right-to-work law that has proven so successful. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has pledged to sign the repeal if it comes to her desk. Democrats recently took full control of state government for the first time in 40 years, and killing right-to-work is one of their top priorities.

Why? For one reason only: to reward the state’s biggest labor unions, which spent millions of dollars to elect Michigan Democrats last fall.

According to Bridge Michigan, a nonpartisan news organization, the state’s five largest unions contributed $3 million in political contributions during the election, 98 percent of which went to Democrats. Union bosses hate right-to-work for the obvious reason that it allows workers to decide for themselves whether to join a labor union or not. In the decade since the law went into effect, the Mackinac Center calculates, the number of Michigan workers paying union dues dropped by 26 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall union membership declined by at least 40,000, dwindling from 629,000 in 2012 to 589,000 in 2022. As those numbers suggest, unions continue to attract many Michigan employees. But right-to-work protections meant that membership was voluntary, as it always should have been.

Democrats have only a two-seat majority in the state Senate and House of Representatives, and killing right-to-work isn’t going to make them more popular. Polls of Michigan voters have repeatedly confirmed that the law enjoys broad support. In the latest such poll, conducted by SurveyUSA last month, 74 percent of Michigan voters — including majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents — said the law should be left in place. Only 14 percent favored repeal.

There is nothing mysterious about the appeal of right-to-work laws: Of course employees would rather choose for themselves whether to join a union at work, just as they choose for themselves whether to take part in the company’s 401(k) plan or to have some of their wages put into a health savings account. Big Labor has always claimed that compelling workers to kick back part of each paycheck to a union is necessary to prevent “free riders” from enjoying all the advantages of a union contract without paying dues to support the union. But coercing people to pay for representation they don’t want and can’t refuse isn’t an advantage. It’s extortion.

Enacting a right-to-work law turned out to be a boon for Michigan’s economy; repealing it will prove to be the opposite. Not since 1965 has any state that protected its citizens from mandatory unionism turned back the clock on that liberty. Michigan Democrats ought to think twice before doing so, because workers aren’t likely to forget.

Start a conversation using these share links:

Who We Are

The Patriot Post is a highly acclaimed weekday digest of news analysis, policy and opinion written from the heartland — as opposed to the MSM’s ubiquitous Beltway echo chambers — for grassroots leaders nationwide. More

What We Offer

On the Web

We provide solid conservative perspective on the most important issues, including analysis, opinion columns, headline summaries, memes, cartoons and much more.

Via Email

Choose our full-length Digest or our quick-reading Snapshot for a summary of important news. We also offer Cartoons & Memes on Monday and Alexander’s column on Wednesday.

Our Mission

The Patriot Post is steadfast in our mission to extend the endowment of Liberty to the next generation by advocating for individual rights and responsibilities, supporting the restoration of constitutional limits on government and the judiciary, and promoting free enterprise, national defense and traditional American values. We are a rock-solid conservative touchstone for the expanding ranks of grassroots Americans Patriots from all walks of life. Our mission and operation budgets are not financed by any political or special interest groups, and to protect our editorial integrity, we accept no advertising. We are sustained solely by you. Please support The Patriot Fund today!

The Patriot Post and Patriot Foundation Trust, in keeping with our Military Mission of Service, are proud sponsors of the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Folds of Honor, Honoring the Sacrifice, Warrior Freedom Service Dogs, Officer Christian Fellowship, the Air University Foundation, the Naval War College Foundation, and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation.


“Our cause is noble; it is the cause of mankind!” —George Washington

The Patriot Post is protected speech, as enumerated in the First Amendment and enforced by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, in accordance with the endowed and unalienable Rights of All Mankind.

Copyright © 2023 The Patriot Post. All Rights Reserved.

The Patriot Post does not support Internet Explorer. We recommend installing the latest version of Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome.