National Review reports that Michigan voters will have a referendum to vote upon Nov. 6:
Proposal 2, called the “Protect Our Jobs” amendment, would constitutionally guarantee collective-bargaining rights to both private and public employees and invalidate any existing state laws that “abridge, impair, or limit” these rights. Its opponents argue that the amendment would nullify much of the reform legislation that has passed since Republican Rick Snyder took the governor’s office in 2011. Upwards of 170 pieces of legislation could be affected if the proposal passes, according to state business leaders.
“Union contracts will trump state law,” says Jim Holcomb of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, “and that’s not hyperbole.”
Even the proposal’s advocates aren’t completely sure how far its impact could reach. During a legal filing with the state board of canvassers, an attorney for the unions said nobody could determine what specific parts of Michigan law the amendment might affect. “If POJ passes, its interaction with existing constitutional provisions, laws, and ordinances will be determined by the courts on a case-by-case basis,” he explained.
The next paragraph is far from an understatement:
The outcome for the initiative will be hugely consequential in a region of the country where conflict over collective bargaining has drawn national attention over the last year. Unions suffered significant blows when they failed to recall Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin and when Indiana passed right-to-work legislation. But the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike and Ohio voters’ rejection of Governor John Kasich’s reforms concerning public-employee unions show that labor leaders still have a lot of sway in the heartland.
The Wall Street Journal’s Shikha Dalmia adds:
Michigan public unions began pushing the initiative last year, shortly after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder—facing a $2 billion fiscal hole—capped public spending on public-employee health benefits at 80% of total costs. This spring, national labor unions joined the amendment effort after failing to prevent Indiana from becoming a right-to-work state. …
The amendment says that no “existing or future laws shall abridge, impair or limit” the collective-bargaining rights of Michigan workers. That may sound innocuous, but according to Patrick Wright of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the amendment would hand a broad mandate to unions to challenge virtually any law they don’t like. …
Thanks to media leaks, we know that already the Michigan Education Association has drawn up an internal wish list of all the laws it will challenge if the initiative passes. The targets include a cap on the health-care benefits of teachers, and reforms to teacher tenure that recently enabled schools to promote teachers based on merit rather than seniority alone. But what’s really exciting the teachers union is the prospect of killing “interdistrict or intradistrict open enrollment opportunities”—which would otherwise promote some competition in education by letting parents vote with their feet and send their kids to better schools. …
The Michigan amendment could also mean the blocking of future laws challenging union privileges. So Michigan’s legislature would never be able to, say, pull a Scott Walker and stop doing unions the favor of withholding dues from public-employee paychecks.
It gets worse. The ballot initiative states that it would “override state laws that regulate hours and conditions of employment to the extent that those laws conflict with collective bargaining agreements.” In other words, collective-bargaining agreements negotiated behind closed doors would trump the legislature—a breathtaking power grab that would turn unions into a super legislature.
Given that Michigan is an economic competitor of Wisconsin, at first blush this looks like a great idea for Michigan. Imagine the flood of Upper Peninsula businesses leaving for more business-friendly Wisconsin. (And look how much better Wisconsin will look in comparison with more-broke-than-broke Illinois and business-unfriendly Michigan.) On the other hand, if this succeeds in Michigan, unions will try this in Wisconsin and other states, even though getting it through consecutive sessions of this state’s Legislature will be impossible as long as one house remains in Republican control.
Union membership is protected by the U.S. Constitution under the right of free association. (Which also means the right to not join a union, not that you’ll ever get unions to admit that.) The “right” to collective bargaining exists nowhere in the U.S. or Wisconsin Constitution. Why Michiganders would want to hand over state government to the people who helped crash most of Michigan’s economy — auto and other unions — is beyond my comprehension.