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State employees preparing for the first bargaining talks since right-to-work

“As we share in the bad times, we must equally share in the good times!”

United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams fired up the rank and file at the UAW convention last week in Detroit. The meeting comes as the Union is preparing for a round of bargaining that will begin later this year with the domestic auto companies.


But, the biggest bargaining unit in the UAW is not auto workers but, rather, state employees: the 17,000 active members of UAW Local 6000. Local 6000 and other state employee unions are preparing to negotiate new contracts this year with the Snyder administration.

These are the first contracts since Michigan became the nation’s 24th right-to-work state and the first contracts where the rank-and-file won’t be compulsory, dues-paying members when they take effect.

A good deal

With that in mind, the UAW and other state employee unions have to show their members that their dues are paying off. And the way to do that is with a very good contract. With things like staving off the Snyder administration’s efforts to squeeze savings out of healthcare costs if it means smaller benefits, bigger co-pays, stuff like that. That’s a big priority for the rank-and-file.

Unions are the largest institutional source of operational and campaign dollars for the Democratic Party

And, many of the rank-and-file are not blue collar but, instead, attorneys, doctors and social workers who work for the taxpayers. And if they don’t feel like their new contract is a bargain for them, the state employee unions risk the fate of the Michigan Education Association. The teachers union has been losing members - and member dues - by the thousands since Michigan became a right-to-work state.

So UAW success in contract bargaining matters because its members will have to see value in paying their dues or suffer the same thinning of their ranks (and their revenue). And that’s true of both public employee unions and their private sector counterparts.

Political impact

All of this has a political spin-off effect. There is a reason why, even with declining membership overall, unions remain the core institution at the heart and soul of the Michigan Democratic Party.

Unions are the largest institutional source of operational and campaign dollars for the Democratic Party. They run the show because they provide the dough. And that money comes from membership dues.

This makes these upcoming contract talks not only important for the state and for workers, but for the Democratic Party, as well. 

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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