Executive Summary

Jimmy Hoffa. Walter Reuther. Many famous figures from America's organized labor movement have their roots in Michigan, the birthplace of the automotive industry. Today, Michigan remains one of the most unionized states in the country, with a long and sometimes troubled labor history that continues to powerfully shape workplace relationships, economic decisions, and everyday consumer activity in the state and nation.

As of 1998, the number of Michigan union members in both private-sector and government employee unions totaled 953,800 employees. This number represents 16.7 percent of private-sector and 55.2 percent of government employees, or roughly one-fifth of the state's total labor force. Yet most Michigan citizens—including union members—do not recognize the pervasive influence of the labor movement on the state's political and economic life or understand the laws that govern unions and employment practices.

Labor organizations' influence extends far beyond affecting unionized workers. Unions also affect how and when Michigan parents can visit their children's classroom at a government school or volunteer to help the teachers. They significantly increase the cost of health care. They impair the city of Detroit's ability to deal effectively with fiscal crises. Labor unions affect (and not always positively) their members' wages, benefits, and working conditions, which in turn affect the prices consumers must pay for a variety of products, from fruits and vegetables to minivans and new homes. And unions also have a powerful influence, through multimillion-dollar lobbying efforts, on political causes and campaigns.

This handbook provides Michigan citizens, policy makers, consumers, employees, union members, and employers with important information about labor law and unions to help them understand the role organized labor plays in the state's economy and the life of every citizen. It is designed to counter many prevalent misconceptions and educate Michigan citizens about vital labor issues so that they are able to make informed, individual decisions about their economic and workplace obligations and opportunities. The primer explains

  • How current federal and Michigan labor laws favor mandatory unionism over the individual rights of workers;

  • How government employee unions politicize state and local governments, including school boards;

  • Why and how unions are created and how they establish themselves in workplaces;

  • The legal rights and responsibilities of employees and employers;

  • The current decline and future prospects of the organized labor movement; and

    • How to reform federal and Michigan labor law toward a traditional, government-neutral approach toward labor representation.

    The handbook is divided into three parts. Part I is an overview of labor unions, union membership, and the organized labor movement as a whole. It includes a brief history of the movement as well as an explanation of the advantages and disadvantages to employees of joining a union. It also explains the three historical approaches government has taken toward the labor market, the difference between private-sector and government employee unions, and the proliferation of new workplace laws.

    Part II provides a detailed, step-by-step description of how private-sector and Michigan and federal public-sector employee unions respectively use the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, Michigan's Public Employment Relations Act of 1947, and the federal Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 to "organize" employees as new members. It also explains the legal obligations of both unions and employers during each step of this organizing process, including what sorts of behavior constitute unfair labor practices.

    Part III details the decreasing influence of the labor movement and offers specific recommendations for improvements to federal and Michigan labor law that will free individual workers, help unions survive in a globally competitive economy, energize the state's labor market, and make Michigan a magnet for expanding companies, good-paying new jobs, and booming economic growth. The recommendations are as follows:

    End compulsory union membership and financial support. Congress or the Michigan Legislature should enact a right-to-work law that frees workers from having to join or pay dues or fees to workplace unions in order to keep their jobs.

    Enforce workers' constitutional rights. The Michigan Legislature should pass a "paycheck protection" law that requires unions to obtain up-front, written approval from workers before spending dues money on political, social, and ideological purposes unrelated to employee representation duties.

    Encourage employee workplace involvement. Congress should amend the National Labor Relations Act to give non-union employees and management greater freedom to cooperatively solve workplace problems without counterproductive union intervention and subsequent inquiries from the National Labor Relations Board.

    Guarantee employees' rights to participate in union governance. Congress should amend the National Labor Relations Act to guarantee the rights of all employees to vote to establish a union, approve a strike, agree to pay union dues as a condition of employment, and ratify union-negotiated labor contracts.

    Michigan's 953,800 union members make it one of the most unionized states in the country, yet few citizens recognize organized labor's pervasive influence on the state's political and economic life or understand the laws that govern unions and employment practices.

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