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Michigan labor union memberships rise in 2015

UAW sign.
Members of the UAW union will attend a four-day legislative conference in Washington, D.C. beginning today

Michigan union membership and representation rebounded significantly in 2015 after a sharp decline in 2014, according to federal statistics released this week.

The percentage of all employees with union memberships rose from 14.5 to 15.2 percent.

Ron Bieber is the president of the Michigan chapter of the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest federation of unions.

He says union membership tends to go up and down slightly depending on the economy, but that the sharp increase can primarily be attributed to President Obama and the work done by labor unions and the auto companies to save the auto industry.

"Auto is back up, bigger and stronger than ever," Bieber said.

Although union involvement is on the rise, it still sits below where it was in 2013, the year Michigan enacted its Right-to-Work law, which gives employees the option not to join or financially support a union.

Bieber said there were legislators who wanted to pass the law for reasons other than to build up workers and make sure workers had a voice in their work life.

"Passing Right-to-Work in Michigan was no more than a power grab to make it harder for working people to speak up together for fair wages and benefits, more time with their families; clear and simple, that's what it was," he said.

But Bieber says he's unsure if Right-to-Work was a factor in the decline in union involvement in 2014.

"We don't know what the long-term effect will be but it hasn't had the effect they wanted so far," he said.

Currently 25 states have Right-to-Work laws.

There is a direct correlation between more positive polling numbers regarding unions and legislative attacks to try and depress labor unions and the voice of working people, according to Bieber.

"People are tired of it, they're sick of it and they're ready to fight back," he said.

He says the main objective of the Michigan AFL-CIO is to "grow and strengthen the labor movement."

"Because it means that more working people can speak up together and the more people that stand up for themselves, the better off working people are," says Bieber.

Paulette is a digital media reporter and producer for Michigan Public. She started as a newsroom intern at the station in 2014 and has taken on various roles in that time, including filling in as an on-air host.
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