Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Guest Blog: F. Vincent Vernuccio on Michigan’s Proposal 2

With the title “Protect Working Families,” it is understandable that both union and nonunion Michiganders might be enticed to pass Proposal 2 this November. But put more accurately, Proposal 2 is the “collective bargaining” amendment that would give union leadership the power to effectively veto state law and radically reverse major reforms in education and government spending.

Proposal 2 allows government-employee unions to make an incredible power grab. Proposal 2 would enshrine collective bargaining as a constitutional right. Therefore, any legislation that could impede the enforcement of the terms of a negotiated contract would be nullified. The Attorney General’s review of the proposal concluded that it would undermine, in whole or in part, 170 previously-enacted state laws. For example, Michigan law does not allow unions to bargain on teacher disciplinary matters–which could, and did, happen before the law went into effect. But with Proposal 2, if a union was able to get a discipline-related measure into a contract, that deal would supersede the state law.

A constitutional amendment of this magnitude means only bad news for Michigan’s finances. From 2000 to 2010, private sector wages in the state dropped, while government employee wages and benefits increased, and the unfunded pension liability continued to skyrocket. Lansing has tried to stabilize Michigan’s precarious financial situation by instituting a number of reforms, but Proposal 2 gives government employee unions the ability the contract around them.

Major education reforms, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, could vanish in the wake of Proposal 2′s passage. Since the 1990s, Michigan law has limited the ability of teachers unions and school districts to negotiate over several items. That list now includes teacher discipline, the time teachers must be in the classroom, and seniority-based layoff practices. These important reforms could be wiped out at the negotiating table.

By enshrining collective bargaining in our constitution, government-employee unions will reverse the successful reforms that have helped Michigan turn the corner. Michiganders, both union and nonunion, will suffer from the far-reaching consequences of Proposal 2 if it passes.

F. Vincent Vernuccio is the director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. For more information on Proposal 2, please visit http://www.mackinac.org/17297.

Categories: Center for Union Facts