It was unions versus politicians while labor leaders picketed outside the Capitol building as inside lawmakers voted on Michigan’s Right-to-Work law. More than two years later as Michigan, and the nation, get set to observe Labor Day, the question lingers: has the Right-to-Work law really had any impact on Michigan’s economy, jobs, or residents?
Michigan became the 24th state to pass a Right-to-Work law which essential prohibited new contracts from requiring union dues as a condition of employment. Supporters said the new law would help to kickstart the state’s economy by making Michigan more attractive to businesses and create more jobs to for the state. Opponents said it could have a major impact on labor organizations which historically have protected the working and middle class.
“To be honest, it is has little effect on us,” said Stasia Savage the business agent for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 26. A smaller union compared to the Teamsters and the United Auto Workers (UAW), IATSE represents stagehands and craftspersons in the entertainment industry. Founded in 1893, the IATSE’s practices on jobs and other issues are fairly well established with the Right-to-Work law having no changes on those procedures, Savage said.
“What really impacted us was when the film industry left,” she said. Michigan ended its film incentive program in 2015. But even the loss of those film incentives has not affected IATSE’s numbers which saw a 2,000 membership growth from 2014 to 2015.
In fact, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, Michigan unions saw an increase in membership in 2015 with 621,000 members, a 36,000-member increase over 2014’s numbers of 585,000, which are the lowest union numbers in 10 years. In 2005, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Michigan union membership at 880,000 which has been slowly declining from there.
The 2015 increase actually defies what some predicted in that people would opted out of unions once contacts expired. Some of the biggest labor contacts involving the UAW and the Teamsters were up for renewal in 2014 with neither group reporting a membership decline. In fact in its filing with the Department of Labor, the UAW reported a 1.3 percent increase in national membership for 2015 according to The Detroit News. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that union membership national wide rose by 219,000 to about 14.8 million in 2015 but that the percentage of the U.S. workforce in a union remained the same at 11.1 percent.
“I believe there is a huge discount between the policy makers and the voters,” said Bill Black, director of Legislative and Community Affairs for the Michigan Teamsters Joint Council #43. Black reported the Teamsters went through contract negotiations in Michigan for UPS and SpartanNash with no decline in membership. “Workers in the state aren’t feeling secure.”
Ari B. Adler, director of communications for the executive office of Gov. Rick Snyder said Michigan’s Right-to-Work law was about keeping Michigan’s economy competitive. It was pro-worker, not-anti-union, he said.
“The law gives workers a choice about whether they want to belong to a union or not,” Alder said. “Whether the numbers increase or decrease is based on how workers feel about the value that unions provide them and the ability of unions to successfully serve the employees they represent.”
Alder said they are not surprised that union numbers are up since given the growth in manufacturing jobs. He noted that Michigan ranks number one in the nation for new manufacturing jobs created since Dec. 2010.
Supporters of the law have touted the fact that since its enactment, that unemployment has consistently gone down. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, unemployment in Michigan spiked in 2009 at a high of 13.9 percent. Since then, it has steadily been going down to where it has been hovering around 4.8 percent.
Michigan has remained below the national unemployment rate. In a report released today, the Bureau of Labor statistics showed an increase of 151,000 jobs in August with the unemployment rate at 4.9 percent.
“Michigan’s economy is back on track and while there is still much more to do to fully recover from the Lost Decade, it is great to see that more than 450,000 private-sector jobs have been created in Michigan since Gov. Snyder took office,” Alder said.
But Black warns that not all those jobs come with health insurance and pensions but are lower wage, lower skill jobs. Nationally, employment areas that were trending for August are mostly service-providing industries such as food and drinking places, social assistance, professional and technical services, financial activities and health care employment. Areas with little change in August were construction, manufacturing wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, temporary help services and government.
“This Right to Work law is not about Michigan citizens and Michigan businesses,” Black said. “It is about a few and their political agenda.”
Black said he feels it is the unions and employers who are working together that will help to build the healthiest middle class in the country and that in the long run, Michigan’s Right to Work law “will hurt the people who pushed it through.”
Still it has only been two years since the Right-to-Work law went into effect and only time will tell if it will have any impact on Michigan’s economy, and we might never get an answer. In a 2012 Michigan Economic Competitiveness Study done by the Michigan Chamber, economists indicated it is hard to separate the Michigan Right-to-Work law from other factors, such as cost to relocate, incentives, and population, all of which have an impact on whether a company decides to stay, come or leave Michigan.