The Michigan state legislature is poised to make history this week by repealing an anti-union “right-to-work” (RTW) statute enacted in 2012. This repeal is an important step toward empowering workers to address historic levels of income inequality and unequal power in our economy, and would mark the first time a state has repealed a RTW law in nearly 60 years.
For decades, Michigan boasted the highest unionization rate in the country—and relatively higher median wages resulted for the state’s workers. In this blog post, we find that as recently as 2005, Michigan’s unionization rate was 1.69 times the national rate, and the state’s median wage was 6% higher than the national median.
But after lawmakers passed RTW in 2012, Michigan’s unionization rates declined faster than in the nation as a whole, and the state’s relative median wage fell below the U.S. median. Attacks on Michigan workers’ rights have especially benefited the rich—declines in unionization rates have been accompanied by dramatic increases in income inequality, with half of all income in the state now going to the top 10%.
The repeal of RTW in Michigan—in tandem with Illinois voters approving a constitutional Workers’ Rights Amendment (which bans future RTW laws) in 2022 and Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejecting their legislature’s attempt to impose RTW restrictions in 2018—would also signal an important turning point after a decade of extreme anti-union state legislation in the Midwest that has suppressed wages and eroded job quality.