FEULNER: Michigan unions’ Election Day pushback

Ballot measure would protect public-worker jobs

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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.

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 drove union leaders to push for it in Michigan. Like the fight over Gov. Scott Walker’s 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, enacted it last year to keep taxpayers from subsidizing more than 80 percent of government-employee health care premiums. That is not good enough for union leaders. They refuse to settle for anything less than too much, deficits or no deficits. Under Proposal 2, they would be able to mount a successful campaign to invalidate 80-20.

That is only one example. Michigan’s Mackinac Center has identified other potential victims. Look at education. Likely to be stuck in permanent detention are teacher tenure laws, as well as a measure to ensure that the teachers who are retained during school layoffs are those with the best job performance, not simply those with the most seniority.

School choice would flunk, too. Michigan has what is known as “interdistrict or intradistrict open-enrollment opportunities” that allow parents to send their children 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 children. The last thing unions want is competition that forces them to do a better job educating our children.

It goes almost without saying that Michigan never could become a right-to-work state if Proposal 2 goes into 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 is little unions couldn’t do under Proposal 2. The measure flat-out says that 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 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, 1 out of 5 private-sector workers belonged to a union. More than 30 years later, it’s below 7 percent. That is less than 1 in 14.

Government-union membership, however, has been climbing. Today, 52 percent of all union members work for the government.

So when they lobby “management” (i.e., elected officials) for wage hikes and other benefits — demanding 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’. It looks as if there is little they won’t do to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.

Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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