Less than a month after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation repealing Michigan’s right to work law, legislative staff are working to unionize, a sign state government could soon become more expensive for taxpayers.

“The turnover rate in this job is really high, especially for the districts that are more urban, like the ones I work in,” legislative aide Connor Berdy told WNEM.

Go Ad-Free, Get Content, Go Premium Today - $1 Trial

Berdy is among 220 legislative staffers in the Michigan House of Representatives the Teamster Local 243 union hopes to court in an ongoing unionization drive.

“These staffers want what all workers deserve: a living wage, job security, fair treatment, and respect for the work they do on behalf of elected officials and Michiganders,” Teamster Local 243 President Scott Quenneville said in a statement.

As it stands now, legislative aides that run offices, research issues and respond to constituents earn annual pay of between $35,000 and $88,000, according to published salaries. Other legislative staff take home up to $150,800.

“We’re at a point in our lives where we would like to start our families and we want to keep this job,” Legislative Director Leaha Skylar-Dotson told WNEM. “But I don’t know how I’m supposed to have a family and keep this job.”

Go Ad-Free, Get Content, Go Premium Today - $1 Trial

Legislative directors are paid one of two salaries in the state House:  $97,500, or $133,500.

The unionization effort follows legislation approved by Democrats and signed by Whitmer last year that repealed the state’s right to work law that banned compulsory union dues. Democrats have also restored the state’s prevailing wage law that requires union-scale wages for government construction projects, and expanded bargaining rights for teachers unions.

Policy experts note those changes generally drive up the cost of government, and the burden on taxpayers.

While organizers told Bridge Michigan in early April the unionization effort in the Michigan House has gained support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the process requires them to gain signatures from more than half of the legislative staff the union aims to represent.

With a majority of union cards in hand, organizers can then seek approval from the Michigan Employment Relations Commission for a recognition vote.

Amber McCann, spokeswoman for House Speaker Joe Tate, told the Detroit Free Press the process to unionize legislative staff is “uncharted territory” that will likely involve Tate’s office and the House Business Office.

She noted Tate, D-Detroit, “has a well-established record of support for labor and workers” in comments to Bridge.

No Democrats have publicly opposed the unionization drive, but some have noted it may not be the best idea.

“State Rep. Jamie Churches, D-Wyandotte, a former educator and union vice president, alluded to possible drawbacks of having a unionized legislative staff but declined to provide any specific examples, saying it would be a better question to pose to the staffers trying to unionize,” according to the Free Press.

Churches declined to discuss whether it would be hypocritical for pro-labor Democrats to oppose the unionization effort, and instead suggested conversations with organizers would be “an important first step.”

Republican leaders, meanwhile, adamantly oppose a staff union, noting the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited mandatory union dues in the public sector.

“Democrat staff can’t forcibly cut our paychecks to bankroll a far-left union,” Jerry Ward, spokesman for Richland Township House Republican Leader Matt Hall, told the media.

The unionization effort in the Michigan follows similar campaigns in other states in recent years that have had mixed success. Oregon became the first state to unionize partisan staffers in 2021, while Maine has allowed nonpartisan staff to organize since the 1990s.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom also approved legislation to allow staff to unionize in October following five previously unsuccessful attempts. An Illinois bill to do the same cleared the state House in October and is now pending in a Senate committee.

In 2022, the Washington state legislature lifted a prohibition on unionizing staff, which will allow them to begin organizing in May 2024, according to Crosscut.

Other efforts are ongoing in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire.