Labor unions affect the daily lives of Michigan citizens in dramatic and powerful, though often indirect and hidden, ways. Everyone—from blue collar factory workers, white collar accountants, soccer moms, and business owners to elementary school students, retirees, Detroit citizens, and residents of the Upper Peninsula—is affected every day by the organized labor movement. Few, however, understand the legal and historical role labor unions have played and continue to play in Michigan's economy, politics, and culture.

Part I of this handbook provides a basic overview of organized labor and contemporary labor law. It includes a brief history of the American labor movement, the three approaches government has historically taken toward unions, how unions are created, the difference between public- and private-sector unions, how collective bargaining works, and the advantages and disadvantages to employees who choose to join a union.

This overview is designed to counter many prevalent misconceptions about unions and labor law and expand Michigan citizens' knowledge about vital labor issues so that they are able to make informed, individual decisions about their workplace obligations and opportunities.