Michigan is one of the most unionized states in the country, with a long and sometimes troubled labor history that continues to powerfully shape employment relationships in the state today. As of 1998, the number of Michigan union members totaled 953,800 employees. This number represents 16.7 percent of private-sector and 55.2 percent of government employees. The combined number of union households in Michigan equates to 21.6 percent of the total workforce, or over one-fifth of all employment relationships.1
Michigan is also the birthplace of the American labor movement, and organized labor dominates auto manufacturing, the state's largest industry. Labor unions are also a major reason why Michigan state government employees earn an average of 16 percent more than private sector workers.2 Unions affect how and when Michigan parents can visit their children's classroom or volunteer to help the teachers. They significantly increase the cost of health care. They impair the city of Detroit's ability to deal effectively with fiscal crises. Labor unions affect members' wages, benefits, and working conditions, which in turn affect the prices consumers must pay for a variety of products, from fruits and vegetables to minivans and new homes. In other words, unionization plays a significant role in the lives of all Michigan citizens, whether they realize it or notand many, in fact, do not.