Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

AFSCME Spins Membership Declines

Photo via Flickr user david_shane - Used with with Creative Commons Attribution LicenseIn 2012, Michigan became the 24th state to pass a right-to-work law. Unions were outraged, but had little to complain about: Michiganders had just rejected a union proposal to rewrite the state’s labor laws to unions’ benefit (and prohibit right-to-work measures) despite over $23 million that was spent to pass it.

For good measure, Michigan voters effectively endorsed the employee rights reforms this November, reelecting Gov. Rick Snyder, increasing the state legislative majorities of reformist Republican legislators, and sending a former state Senate leader who had pushed right-to-work in previous legislatures to the U.S. House.

With voters expressing support for employee rights reformers, unions in Michigan are left with little more than spin. We get that this week from Ed McNeil, Special Assistant to the President of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Leadership Council 25—the Michigan state council of that union. MLive reports:

Ed McNeil, special assistant to the president of the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) rattled off four new groups he’d helped form unions this year, though he says he’d have to dig through some files to find the total number they’ve done since 2012.


“They’re calling us to organize them because they’re looking at the type of work that we’ve done in the past and how we represent people,” McNeil said.


He estimates that the actual number of AFSCME members in the state is staying about the same, since some individuals are dropping out. As far as new organizing goes, “We’re doing more than we did before 2012,” McNeil said.

We can help jog McNeil’s memory, using the Center for Union Facts searchable databases of union federal disclosures. In 2013 (the most recent year for which data are public), AFSCME L.C. 25 had 40,669 members. That’s a drop of 5,405 members (11.7 percent) from 2012’s 46,074 membership. While AFSCME Michigan may be recovering some of its losses through new organizing, it doesn’t appear to be nearly enough to stanch the long-term decline.

Employee rights reform is successful and working in Big Labor’s spiritual homeland of Michigan. With more opportunity to choose for themselves, many employees are deciding that unions aren’t worthy of their support. It’s time to take this effort to the national level. As unions double down on their failed tactics of ruinous strikes and political hyper-partisanship, legislators should take up reform legislation like the Employee Rights Act to give employees a real voice in their workplaces.

Categories: AFL-CIOAFSCMECenter for Union FactsEmployee Rights ActRight-to-Work