Employers Fear Jobs Losses from Michigan’s ‘Protect Our Jobs Amendment’

Published August 17, 2012

Michigan labor unions are working to land a “Protect Our Jobs Amendment” on the state’s November ballot. If passed, unions’ collective bargaining rights would be added to the state’s constitution.

“I think they should rename it the “Drive Our Jobs Away Amendment,” said Greg Mourad, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee. “I think it will tell every business owner in the country that Michigan is not interested in any significant labor law reform, and that they continue to want to empower Big Labor rather than empowering individual workers.”

Several unions and organizations that support the amendment were contacted for comment. None responded.

Union Power in Constitution

According to protectourjobs.com, the amendment would, among other things, “establish the people’s rights to organize to form, join, or assist unions and to bargain collectively with public or private employers regarding wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment.”

In addition, the Web site says, the amendment would grant government employees collective bargaining rights and prevent the state and local governments from interfering with those rights.

The amendment would forbid passage of a state right-to-work law and prohibit “even the most modest reforms to the existing monopoly bargaining systems,” Mourad said. “It will be the unions’ right to a monopoly bargaining position.”

“It could have a disastrous effect on the economy,” said Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “Many of the reforms that have helped Michigan turn the corner from the economic malaise of the last decade could be almost immediately wiped out.”

The amendment would give government unions power over the state’s constitution, Vernuccio said.

Union Veto Power

“Every bargaining session would be a mini-constitutional convention,” he said. “Protect Our Jobs is a radical constitutional amendment that would give union bosses a veto over legislation concerning government collective bargaining.”

He noted as an example the 80/20 law, recently passed, which requires that government employees pay 20 percent of the cost of their own health care.

“The Protect Our Jobs Amendment could instantly veto that. If a union wanted the taxpayers to pay 100 percent … they could overrule that legislation,” he said. “Five hundred million dollars in savings would vanish.”

Lawmakers Would Be Hamstrung

He also noted a Michigan law requiring school officials to consider factors other than seniority when deciding which teachers to fire or lay off. With the amendment, a teachers union could overrule that, he said.

“Instead of looking for the worst teacher, just look at the one with the lowest seniority,” he said.

Often, he added, unions have helped elect the officials they will later bargain with, creating obvious conflicts of interest.

“While the school board will have a say, if they’re already very friendly with the union, they’ll give the union what they want and no one can stop them,” he said. The amendment would take away the state and municipal ability to legislate what unions can and cannot bargain for, he said. Little would be left to the state.

“The only thing POJA leaves to state legislation is setting minimum standards and making laws concerning strikes,” he said. “The real point is that … unions can veto any law an elected official makes. End of story.”

Right to Work Reform

Mourad said Michigan would benefit from having a state right-to-work law, which would prohibit making union membership a condition of employment. The state should also ban union-only project labor agreements on construction projects, he said.

“Nobody could be forced to join a union,” he said. “Union bosses get far more responsive to the needs and desires of their members, because those individual workers all of a sudden can leave if [a union boss is] being unreasonable or ridiculous, and that makes for better unions.”

He noted states with right-to-work laws do better job at creating jobs than those that allow union membership as a condition of employment.

“Companies want to move to right-to-work states,” he said. “Indiana passed a right-to-work law and saw an immediate uptick in companies bringing in jobs.” Many of those companies cited the right-to-work law as a reason for moving into the state, he said.

Project Labor Drag

Project labor laws work similarly.

“Union-only project labor laws say only the unionized segment gets to bid on a particular construction project, … denying work to people who may well be able to produce the best bid,” Mourad said.

That comes at a great cost—”not just the wage rate but the union work rules, rules that say the guy swinging the hammer isn’t allowed to drive a wrench. All those things drive up costs,” he said.

Without reforms, Michigan’s future is bleak, he said.

“Michigan is in desperate need of reforms. Their economy is already in shambles. Jobs are fleeing the state. People are fleeing the state, chasing the jobs. Even if this has no harmful effect whatsoever, it will certainly prevent any meaningful job [creation],” he said, “and Michigan will continue to die a slow, lingering death.”

Several unions and supporters of the amendment were asked for comment, including Protect Our Jobs, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the American Federation of Teachers, United Auto Workers, Progress Michigan, We Are the People, Michigan Nurses Association, Lecturers Employee Organization, and Michigan State Utility Workers Council. None returned calls for comment.