Michigan Delivers Unions a Blow

By F. Vincent Vernuccio

Almost lost in the din of the Presidential Election, Tuesday marked a sea change in organized labor's power.

President Obama won an impressive victory on Tuesday, but voters wisely continued the national trend of rejecting the outrageous demands of government unions. In no place was this more clear than in Michigan, where voters soundly defeated Proposal 2, which would have written special privileges for government unions into the state's constitution.

Frustrated by a series of reforms that would save Michigan taxpayers a projected $1.6 billion annually, government unions moved forward with a desperate gamble: they sought to make themselves a super-legislature, with the ability to veto laws passed by elected representatives.

Proposal 2 would have given their collective bargaining agreement the force of Michigan's Constitution.

Under this union-rewrite of the state's constitution, democratically enacted reforms that required government union workers to contribute just a little more to their own retirement or health care would become bargaining chips in future labor disputes between these workers and the people of Michigan. Laws that reformed tenure and protected the best teachers from being fired due to lack of seniority would have been erased. Michigan's Attorney General estimated that 170 laws and 18 parts to the state Constitution were jeopardized by this union gambit.

Voters recognized this was intolerable. And the result on Tuesday should be a warning to organized labor: voters will not rubber stamp your power grabs.

Unions poured over $23 million into the effort in Michigan, a state that was the birthplace of the UAW and has the fifth highest percentage of union members in the country. They hoped that a bold move in that region would spark a nationwide movement.

If Prop 2 had passed in Michigan, organized labor would have likely spread the concept to some of the 18 other states which have a ballot process for amending their constitution. Richard Trumka told the New York Times that "'If it's successful, we will continue to make efforts like that' in other states to prevent future attacks on collective bargaining, like those in Wisconsin."

It's back to the drawing board for Trumka and other union leaders.

The result on Tuesday proves that the movement to reign in government unions is broader than party politics; many committed Democrats voted against Proposal 2. President Obama handily won Michigan with over 53 percent of the vote, but Proposal 2 was rejected by 58 percent of voters there. These citizens put workers, taxpayers and job creators above special interests.

And Tuesday was not a fluke. It is a heartening example of a larger trend. Organized labor received a similar rebuke from voters last year when they responded to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's reforms with a hysterical campaign to recall him from office. He and the taxpayers of his state triumphed.

Walker showed unions just how little they are valued by taxpayers and by their own members. One of Walker's reforms gave government workers the right to chose whether or not they wanted to pay a union to represent them. The result: the state's largest government union, AFSCME, lost more than half of its membership in a single year.

It seems more states are starting to agree with President Franklin Roosevelt that "(T)he process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service."

Now that organized labor has been pushed into a corner by this larger reform movement, the people must stay vigilant against unions that seek to do an end-run around elected legislatures and reforming governors. We hope the verdict delivered by Michigan voters dissuades Trumka and their allies from trying it again.

 

F. Vincent Vernuccio is director of labor policy for Michigan's Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

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