Collective Bargaining: Mythical Right Turned Constitutional In Michigan?

Everyone knows that our Founding Fathers’ primary motive during the revolution was to preserve collective bargaining for the carriage industries. That as Washington crossed the Delaware he was shouting, “Save collective bargaining, Christian soldiers!” Natch.

But this is what labor unions in Michigan would have you believe. Statewide ballot proposal “Protect our Jobs” seeks to make collective bargaining a constitutional right, and the Michigan Court of Appeals certified on August 27 that the measure would appear before voters in November.

The Court of Appeals overturned the Board of State Canvassers’ previous decision to withhold the initiative from the ballot. As Jocelyn Benson, director of the Michigan Center for Election Law at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit points out, the legal battle may be distracting voters from what’s really at stake. She says, “Every dollar spent in court ironically could be spent educating voters of this initiative.”

But a little education is a dangerous thing. And an educated public is exactly what unions fear.

If the people knew that the spoonfuls of honey the unions offer are actually poison, the frightening extent to which this measure would change their government, chances are they would be rioting in the street for their potentially lost liberty. The measure’s deliberately opaque language masks its true purpose: to change the mythical “right” to collective bargaining into a real provision of the state constitution. The proposed amendment reads in part:

(3) No existing or future law of the State or its political subdivisions shall abridge, impair or limit the foregoing rights; provided that the State may prohibit or restrict strikes by employees of the State and its political subdivisions. The legislature’s exercise of its power to enact laws relative to the hours and conditions of employment shall not abridge, impair or limit the right to collectively bargain for wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment that exceed minimum levels established by the legislature.

(4) No existing or future law of the State or its political subdivisions shall impair, restrict or limit the negotiation and enforcement of any collectively bargained agreement with a public or private employer respecting financial support by employees of their collective bargaining representative according to the terms of that agreement.

Translation: right to work will be dead in Michigan forever.

Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette seems to realize the danger on some level; after studying the matter, he warns citizens that the proposal is too complex to be accurately explained to voters in the 100 words the ballot allows.

A desperate attempt to safeguard against the changing tides that are washing away union power in neighboring states, Michigan labor unions have already committed a reported $8 million to seeing “Protect our Jobs” through to November’s voting. Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana have been scaling back union power since 2010, although Ohio’s labor-reform law has since been rejected by the voters. Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worchester, has called this a “preemptive strike” by unions. Quoted in the Christian Science Monitor he says,

Unions are seeing that they have to get this into the legislation while they can, because things can get a lot worse…They want to inoculate themselves from further harm and are trying to frame [the issue] in such a way it becomes very difficult for their political opponent to fight it.

If passed the ballot proposal would drastically change a portion of the state constitution by altering or erasing 170 current Michigan laws. Not only does it wish to grant collective bargaining a constitutional certainty in Michigan, the initiative would also restrict legislative authority. Big Labor is trying to hijack the state capitol, taking power for themselves that would normally be exercised by the people through their state representatives.

In addition to scorching the ground so that right to work legislation can never grow, Schuette points out the ballot proposal if approved would also

[h]ave the power of voiding, or limiting, a broad spectrum of existing powers in the executive and legislative branch and in the courts, such as the ability of state universities to control expenditures and the governor’s ability to propose a budget or reduce spending.

Take the case of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker; he changed the collective bargaining process through his “Wisconsin budget repair bill” in response to his state’s ominous deficit. Thanks to Walker’s action, the state Department of Revenue expects Wisconsin will have a surplus of $154.5 million by June 2013. Had Wisconsin passed its own “Protect our Jobs” measure, Governor Walker may not have been able to turn the state’s finances around.

If Michiganites choose to pass this ballot initiative now they will effectively be taking away their right to vote on similar issues in the future. The ballot proposal seeks to remove tools lawmakers need to enact fiscal change, tools they may one day need.

Let’s hope that Michigan voters truly comprehend the gravity of this proposal, in spite of effort from those pushing for the measure to ensure that they don’t.

Does anyone really think this is the kind of democracy the Founders wanted for us?