Michigan Voters to Decide on Union Power

Published September 12, 2012

Michigan voters will decide in November whether to give constitutional authority to unions’ collective bargaining rights. The Proposal 2, or Protect Our Jobs Amendment, would establish those rights and prevent state and local governments from interfering with them, according to protectourjobs.com.

The state’s supreme court approved the union-backed ballot proposal, after the Protect Our Jobs group appealed the board of canvasser’s initial rejection of the proposal.

Analysts say the amendment would harm Michigan’s economy by giving unions power over the legislature, repealing an estimated 170 state laws, and prohibiting right-to-work laws.

Union Power

The amendment would turn collective bargaining sessions into miniature constitutional conventions, said Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich.

“The proposal’s language raises fundamental questions about future control of the terms and conditions of public and private employment in Michigan, jeopardizing the fiscal stability that the last two years of legislative reforms have brought to the State,” wrote Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) in a memo to the state’s governor.

“If the proposal is adopted it may … first, prohibit governmental units from adopting laws fixing the compensation, terms, and conditions of employment; second, eviscerate such units’ control over budgets from public employment; third, produce inconsistencies amongst unit’s budgets, public employees’ salaries, and services, and fourth, abrogate constitutional provisions and scores of state laws approved in accord with the mandates voiced by Michigan’s citizens,” he added.

State Law Repeal

Approximately 170 state laws governing unions could be repealed, in whole or in part, under POJA, according to the Mackinac Center, and lawmakers would have little control over what unions can bargain for.

Vernuccio said under POJA, a recent 80/20 law, requiring government employees to pay 20 percent of the cost of their own health insurance, could be repealed if union officials want. This would end the $500 million the 80/20 law has been saving taxpayers.

Another Michigan law requires school officials not to fire teachers or lay them off based solely on seniority, but under POJA, a teachers union could overrule that law, he said.

The school board would have a say in teachers union contracts, but often, unions have helped elect school board members, who are then eager to comply with union demands, he said.

Right to Work

The proposal would forbid the passage of state right-to-work laws, said Greg Mourad, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee.

States with right-to-work laws, which prohibit making union membership a condition of employment, have been retaining and attracting more employers than forced-union states, he said. Union officials are also more responsive to workers in right-to-work states, he said.

“Voters now have a very important decision to make,” Vernuccio said. “Do they want to give union officials more power than legislators and local elected officials, or do they want to move ahead with reforms that could keep Michigan on the path of recovery?”