MPPS Policy Brief: Michigan local government leaders’ views on their employee unions: few changes in relationships or impacts as Right-to-Work comes and goes

July 2023

This policy brief presents the views of Michigan local government leaders on a range of issues regarding public employee unions in their jurisdictions, including their governments’ relationships with their employee unions, whether their unions are assets or liabilities to local government performance and fiscal health, and the impacts of Right-to-Work laws. These findings are based on statewide surveys of local government leaders in the spring 2023 wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS)—  conducted between February 6 and April 17, 2023—and tracking comparisons to previous spring waves.

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Key findings

  • In 2023, just over one-quarter (27%) of Michigan’s 1,856 general purpose local governments—counties, cities, townships, and villages—report having employee labor unions, essentially unchanged over the past decade. Currently, just 6% of the state’s smallest jurisdictions (those with fewer than 1,500 residents) currently reporting having one or more employee unions, while 96% of Michigan’s largest jurisdictions (those with more than 30,000 residents) report having a union.
  •  Among jurisdictions that have at least one employee union, police unions are the most common type in Michigan in 2023, reported by 80% of jurisdictions that have a public sector union of any kind. Next most common (64%) are unions for Department of Public Works (DPW) employees, followed by fire department unions (41%). Meanwhile, miscellaneous other types of unions are reported by 50% of local governments with unions. These percentages are also essentially unchanged since 2013, with some growth only in the percentage with fire department unions, at 41% in 2023 compared to 36% in 2013.
  • Statewide, 80% of local leaders from jurisdictions with unions believe the relationship between their jurisdiction’s government and its employee labor unions is either “excellent” or “good.” Over the past decade, local officials’ assessments of “excellent” relations with employee unions have increased in jurisdictions of all sizes except the largest places, where those assessments have simply held steady.
  • Local leaders continue to be split on whether employee unions are more of an asset than a liability for their jurisdiction’s fiscal health, while more likely to see them as assets to overall government performance.
  • When asked in 2023 for their assessments of the local impacts of Right-to-Work laws, local government leaders across the state most commonly say Right-to-Work has had no impact on issues such as community business growth (35%), the ability of the local government to attract or retain public sector employees (46%), or the fiscal health of their local government (44%). These percentages are strikingly similar to the predictions made by local officials in 2013 about the potential local impacts of Right-to-Work.
  • The biggest difference over the past decade in attitudes about Right-to-Work’s impact regards the relationship between the official’s local government and its unions. In 2013, 28% statewide predicted the laws would have no impact on local government-union relations, while in 2023 a majority (55%) report there has been no impact.