Friday, September 7, 2012

Welcome to Michigan and the Fate of Unions in November: The Second Most Critical Election This Year

Welcome to Michigan. I’m back in the self-proclaimed Mitten State, but the steel gloves are out.

This Presidential election is truly for the future of America. The second most critical decision for voters is in Michigan. It is not for the Senate or Congressional elections. Nor is it for state legislative positions. The Michigan election is for the future of organized labor, especially the public sector unions, in Michigan and throughout America.

The unions lost in Wisconsin, won in Ohio, and are now going for the tiebreaker in Michigan.

The 2010 midterm elections were a deep sweep of the Midwest. Republicans took control of the governorships and legislatures in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, as well as Pennsylvania, and almost control in Iowa and Minnesota.

Governors and legislatures in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin proceeded to enact anti-union measures of varying degrees. Wisconsin was the most extreme anti-union, or at least anti public sector union, measure, but excluded fire and police. Ohio included emergency responders in its anti-union legislation. Indiana became a right to work state.

The unions failed to overturn the Wisconsin legislation in four electoral tries in two years. The Ohio unions mounted a successful referendum campaign to overwhelmingly reject the Ohio measures.

Michigan took a less confrontational approach. Public sector workers were required to pay a greater percent of their pension and health costs. In addition, the government would no longer collect union dues from the public employees. Most of the reforms dealt with local government financing reforms, including placing municipalities into financial receiverships, which could nullify union contracts.

Some Republican legislators suggested enacting a right to work statute in Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder responded by saying he did not favor such a bill, but would sign it if passed by the legislature.   

Right to work statutes, whereby a worker cannot be compelled to join a union, help propel the job migration to the South. Detroit’s competitors from Japan, with the exception of Toyota in Marysville, Ohio, built non-union plants in right to work states. The United Auto Workers has repeatedly been unsuccessful in organizing the non-captive import plants.

Even the threat of transforming Michigan, the heartland of the industrial workers unions, into a right to work state was scary for the unions.

The unions spent $1.15 getting a proposed amendment to the state constitution on the November ballot. 322,609 valid signatures were needed for the referendum. About 700,000 were obtained. The unions have another $7 million in the bank to fund the measure in the general election, and may spend up to $20 million on the cause..

The United Auto Workers contributed $1 million, the AFL-CIO Unity Fund $1.25 million, AFSCME $1 million, the American Federation of Teachers $460,000, the Teamsters $333,334, the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters $250,000, and the IBEW $243,972.

The unions, led by the once omnipotent UAW, are scared that Michigan might follow Wisconsin after this round of elections. Hence, they are trying to block any future anti-union measures by a Republican legislature and governor.

Their simply worded proposal, the deceptively simple worded proposal, states that collective bargaining is a right guaranteed by the state constitution.

Depending on how the courts construe the provision, its interpretation could be so broad as to preclude state regulation, i.e. legislative enactments, that would in any way interfere with wages, benefits, and working conditions negotiated by the unions in their collective bargaining agreements.

In short, little restraint would exist, short of federal bankruptcy, on the sweetheart contracts the public employee unions have negotiated with plaint city, county, and school officials, often elected with union help.

Governor Snyder said the proposed provision could invalidate up to 170 existing state laws that affect unions.

Labor also has two other referendums on the ballot. The first would provide for the unionization of home health care workers and the second would repeal the state's emergency manager law. Repeal the emergency manager law will result in an increased bankruptcy of Michigan cities. It is the republicans attempt to bring fiscal sanity to local government.

Michigan’s previous governor, the feckless Jennifer Granholm, who was in thrall to the public employee unions, hurriedly fled Michigan to Berkeley and an obscure cable show when her term was up. The tax payers of Michigan are paying a high price for her ineptitude.

If the unions win in November, they will buy time, but the economic tides are against them. If they lose, then Michigan, and other states, may well follow Wisconsin’s lead with severe union busting statutes, at least for the public sector unions.

They must win, but then so do did the Wisconsin unions.

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