More Dues Expected to Flow to Unions After Right-to-Work Repeal

LANSING (Capital News Service) – The repeal of the state’s 2012 right-to-work law is leaving unions and their allies looking at a future with more money to spend on collective bargaining and other activities as dues revenue increases.

Around 55,000 workers in the state were represented by a union in 2022 but didn’t pay dues under the now-repealed right-to-work law, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while Michigan had 589,000 dues-paying members.

In 2024, when the repeal takes effect, unions will likely receive an influx of funds from the agency shop fees paid by workers who opted out of union dues under right-to-work, according to Michigan State University labor relations professor John Beck.

Workers who opted out under right-to-work will now likely need to choose between becoming a full-fledged member, paying complete dues, or paying agency shop fees– a smaller amount for the benefits they obtain through collective bargaining.

Unions are required to represent workers through collective bargaining and the grievance process, Beck said, but will be able to provide a broader range of services with repeal of right to work.

“We are now going back to having treasuries that were able to pay for things that are not required under law,” Beck said. “Like education, like health and safety, like mental health (services), employee assistance programs.”

Michigan AFL-CIO communications director Aaron Pelo said that unions and their allies have been pushing for repeal for around a decade.

“We’re excited about where we go from here and we’re excited how other states might look to Michigan to follow along a similar path,” Pelo said.

Right-to-work laws are allowed under a federal labor law that permits states to prohibit unions from requiring union membership and dues as a condition of employment. 

Congress overrode President Harry Truman’s veto of the legislation in 1947 and eight states immediately passed right-to-work laws. 

Michigan, however, along with neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin, was part of a renewed push by conservatives to have more states pass right-to-work laws after the 2008 national financial crisis.

Indiana was the first of the three, in 2012, with Michigan following close behind. Wisconsin followed in 2016. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who signed the repeal, and the Democratic majority in the Legislature made Michigan the first state to repeal a right-to-work law in almost six decades.

Sandy Baruah, the president of the Detroit Regional Chamber, told Michigan Radio that he is afraid of lack of consistency for businesses, citing changing tax laws and union regulations when gubernatorial administrations changed from Republican to Democrat and then back again.

Beck also foresees unions increasing staffing, especially for organizing drives to represent more workers, and for “subject matter experts,” meaning people brought in to work with unions on a specific topic.

Beck said the funding increase could lead to more union lobbyists as well because they are paid employees of the union, not a form of political contribution.

While the AFL-CIO’s Pelo said he didn’t wish to speculate, he said there is potential for a surge in “activity and interest around organizing efforts” because negotiating about whether employees must pay dues will be “less burdensome.”

Dan Netter is a journalist for Capital News Service who started at Michigan State University in 2019.