Michigan union membership increased by 1.2% in 2017

Keith Laing

Washington — Union membership in Michigan increased by 1.2 percentage points in 2017, according to statistics released Friday by the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics said the number of union members in Michigan increased from 606,000 in 2016 to 658,000 last year, going from 14.4 to 15.6 percent of the workforce. The agency said 711,000, or 16.8 percent, of total number of workers in Michigan were represented by unions in 2017, compared to 651,000, or 15.5 percent, last year.

Nationwide, workers who were members of unions remained steady at 10.7 percent. The labor bureau said there were 14.8 million union members in the U.S. in 2017, which was an increase of 262,000 from 2016.

The Labor Department said Thursday there were 7.2 million public-sector employees that belonged to a union last year, compared with 7.6 million unionized workers in the private sector. The agency said the union membership rate for public-sector workers last year was 34.4 percent, which was substantially higher than the 6.5 percent rate for private-sector workers.

Union supporters said the findings are a sign of the importance of unions in an era when labor groups face many challenges: A majority of states now have so-called “right-to-work” laws that mean workers are not required to join unions representing their workplaces. Workers in foreign-owned auto plants continue to reject organizing efforts. And robots are replacing humans.

“In the face of a challenging year, the power of working people is on the rise,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “Together, we organized historic new unions, stood up to powerful corporations, and won higher wages.”

Last year was a tough one for labor unions. The United Auto Workers, one of the nation’s most powerful unions, again failed to organize workers in the South, with workers at a Nissan plant in Mississippi voting against unionizing by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in early August. The UAW’s efforts in Mississippi were complicated by indictments of union officials for allegedly conspiring to raid millions of dollars from training funds for blue-collar workers.

UAW President Dennis Williams said the autoworkers union is in good shape, despite the setbacks that it experienced in 2017.

“The state of the UAW is very solid,” Williams said in a statement provided to The Detroit News. “The UAW has grown each of the last seven years and our bargained contracts and the quality of work we deliver are helping to drive the recovery of the post-recession U.S. economy.”

Membership numbers for the UAW will not be released until March. In March 2017, the union said 2016 membership had grown by 1 percent over the previous year, with more than 7,000 members added.

Unions are operating against a backdrop that includes a steady drumbeat of states that are passing right-to-work laws that weaken labor’s influence by not requiring workers to join unions or pay union dues at their workplaces. The Michigan Legislature passed such a law, which took effect in March 2013; it prohibits union contracts from requiring “fair share” fees as a condition of employment to pay for the cost of collective bargaining agreements.

Additionally, an administration seen as unfriendly to organized labor occupies the White House following a presidential campaign in which Donald Trump won several states — including Michigan — where it was believed union mobilization would carry Hillary Clinton to a win.

Union critics reveled in the finding that labor affiliation was largely stagnant in 2017.

“The consistently low private-sector union membership rate is just another reminder of the disconnect between union officials and the employees they claim to represent,” Luka Ladan, communications director at the Center for Union Facts, said in a statement. “From enabling sexual harassment to spending dues money on self-serving political crusades, union officials are losing the trust of dues-payers.”


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