October 8, 2012 | Commentary on Jobs and Labor Policy
It sounds so innocuous: the “Protect Our Jobs” amendment. At a time of high unemployment, who wouldn’t find such a concept appealing? So union leaders are pulling out all the stops to get this measure, better known as Proposal 2, approved by Michigan’s voters on Election Day.
But don’t ignore this ballot initiative if you happen to live outside the Wolverine state. The fate of Proposal 2 likely will have repercussions elsewhere. Other states are struggling with the same economic pressures that led union leaders to push for it in Michigan. Like the fight over Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial reforms in Wisconsin, and the strike staged by the Chicago Teachers’ Union, the fight over Proposal 2 is something of a bellwether.
The measure would let government unions challenge any state law they consider an impediment to their ability to bargain collectively. Specifically, Proposal 2 says that no “existing or future laws shall abridge, impair or limit” the ability of state workers to reach agreements about work conditions.
Practically speaking, what does that mean? It means more money coming out of the wallets of taxpayers like you and me.
Take Michigan’s “80/20” law. Gov. Rick Snyder and state lawmakers, faced with $2 billion in red ink, passed it last year to keep taxpayers from subsidizing more than 80 percent of government-employee health care premiums. That’s not good enough for union leaders. They refuse to settle for anything less than too much, deficits or no deficits. And under Proposal 2, they’d be able to mount a successful campaign to invalidate 80/20.
That’s only one example. Michigan’s Mackinac Center has identified other potential victims. Look at education. Teacher tenure laws likely would be stuck in permanent detention, as well as a measure to ensure that during school layoffs, the teachers that are retained are the best-performing ones, not simply the ones with the most seniority.
School choice would be, well, flunked, too. Michigan has what’s known as “interdistrict or intradistrict open enrollment opportunities” that allow parents to send their kids to better public schools. Teachers’ unions hate that with a passion. Under Proposal 2, expect families to have far fewer options about where to send their kids. The last thing unions want is competition that forces them to do a better job educating our kids.
And it goes almost without saying that Michigan could never become a right-to-work state if Proposal 2 were in effect. Lawmakers could do nothing about forced unionism -- and the dues it extracts from your paycheck whether you like it or not.
In fact, there’s very little unions couldn’t do under Proposal 2. It flat out says it could “override state laws that regulate hours and conditions of employment to the extent that those laws conflict with collective bargaining agreements.” Such an arrangement would leave the door wide open to a lot of potential mischief -- and potential cost.
How much? “It is impossible to precisely calculate the taxpayer cost, because the amendment could reverse so many laws and prevent so many new ones,” Mackinac’s Vincent Vernuccio points out, although the think tank has estimated that Proposal 2 “would likely negate a projected $1.6 billion in annual taxpayer savings.”
Small wonder, though, that union officials are pushing for such an undemocratic power grab for their public-sector arm. As I’ve noted in previous columns, private-sector union membership has been in steep decline. In 1980, one out of every five private-sector workers belonged to a union. More than 30 years later, it’s less than 7 percent. That’s fewer than one in 14.
Government-union membership, however, has been climbing. Today, in fact, more than half of all union members (52 percent) work for the government.
So when they lobby “management” (i.e., elected officials) for wage hikes and other benefits -- demanding, yes, higher taxes -- that money isn’t coming out of the bank account of some private company. It’s coming from taxpayers.
At least now you know whose jobs are being protected by the Protect Our Jobs amendment: union leaders. And it looks as if there’s little they won’t do to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.
Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).
First appeared in The Washington Times.