Column: Union membership is growing

Ron Bieber

Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data that show labor unions in Michigan added 52,000 new members in 2017. This was the biggest annual jump in union membership in Michigan in over a decade, and even more importantly, it means there are now more dues-paying union members in Michigan than there were in 2012 — the year Gov. Rick Snyder signed right-to-work legislation into law.

Make no mistake, we still have a long way to go to undo the damage that’s been done to working families after nearly eight years of attacks by laws like right to work and the Emergency Manager Act, which were a direct assault on the freedom of working people to negotiate together.

Despite this union membership is growing again because working people in Michigan understand there’s power in numbers. And they know we need the power in numbers of unions more than ever to rewrite the rules of our economy to protect the things our families need, like good jobs with strong benefits, a secure retirement, and more time to spend with family.

Now, after eight years with Snyder, Bill Schuette and Brian Calley at the helm, working people need a new direction in Lansing. We need an agenda that is focused on building an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy.

At its legislative convention last month, the Michigan AFL-CIO adopted a detailed policy platform that is focused on: protecting the rights of all working people, building quality infrastructure, growing vibrant communities, creating a fair economy, and protecting our voting freedoms.

Some of the key highlights include:

■ Passing strong and enforceable Buy American, Buy Michigan, and Buy Local laws to require state and local government contracts create good jobs right here at home, instead of hiring unskilled foreign or out-of-state workers.

■ Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and adopting strong earned paid sick leave policies to ensure all working people can earn enough to sustain a family and care for loved ones when they get sick.

■ Developing a long-term bipartisan road funding solution to fix our crumbling roads and bridges, create thousands of good-paying construction jobs, and ensure taxpayers get the best value for our money by protecting prevailing wage.

■ Making the tax code work for working families, by repealing the Snyder Retirement Tax and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers, and by ending tax breaks for wealthy corporations that ship Michigan jobs, profits, and factories overseas.

■ Reforming our democracy by allowing online voter registration and no-reason absentee voting, and by banning partisan gerrymandering.

It’s time for a new direction in Michigan. We need our elected leaders in Lansing to focus on building a better Michigan for all of us. Working people have a plan to move our state forward — now we just need to roll up our sleeves and hold our elected officials accountable to make this vision a reality.

Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.


Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.