Director of Labor Policy
Right to Work has become a reality. The two-bill package passed both houses of the state legislature, and was signed into law by Gov. Snyder.
Unions are continued to cry foul and staged wild protests outside the Michigan Statehouse – at one point they tore down a tent belonging to Americans for Prosperity.
In yesterday’s post we discussed what Right to Work really is. Today, we look at why Michigan passed the law in spite of union protests, and why Michigan’s experience could be replayed in Illinois.
Q: Why did Right to Work become such a big issue in Michigan right now?
A: Michigan is a lot like Illinois. During the last decade, Michigan has struggled with poor public schools, high government employee costs and a stagnant economy. The difference is, a couple years ago Michigan voters elected Gov. Rick Snyder; and he has good business sense.
Q: What kind of reforms has Snyder enacted in office?
A: Snyder didn’t initially back Right to Work. He was asked about it a couple of times and he said he would sign Right-to-Work legislation if it got to his desk, but it wasn’t on his agenda. Instead, he worked with the Legislature to systematically fix a lot of problems in state government. Together, they made government employees pick up part of the cost of health insurance, reformed teacher tenure rules, made teacher evaluations more important and set up a system where union contracts could be overruled in local governments and school districts that were close to bankruptcy. This was actually a pretty modest reform package, but it did cut back on union power.
Q: How did the unions respond to Snyder’s reforms?
A: They tried to amend the state Constitution. They put together Proposal 2, a ballot initiative that made collective bargaining part of the state Constitution, and also said that the Legislature couldn’t put any additional limits on collective bargaining.
Q: Wasn’t Proposal 2 pretty drastic?
A: Even more than you may realize. For government employees in particular, collective bargaining was something that the Legislature itself created, and Proposal 2 would have eliminated any past or future limitations to collective bargaining. This would’ve meant that Michigan’s entire labor law – including how unions are recognized and how the state deals with negotiation impasses – would essentially be nullified. Labor law for teachers, cops and all other government employees would have been a total free-for-all. The unions just didn’t want anyone to be able to tell them no; Proposal 2 went way too far.
Q: So what happened to Proposal 2?
A: The governor opposed it, almost all of the newspapers opposed it, and Proposal 2 went down in flames, 58-42.
Q: Did Proposal 2 push the governor to back Right to Work?
A: Probably. I can’t read minds but my guess is that without Proposal 2 Snyder and the Legislature would have been satisfied with the changes they had made. But by trying to undo everything Snyder and the Legislature had done, attempting to prevent the Legislature from making any more changes and creating a big legal mess in the process, the unions forced the governor and the Legislature to go further than they otherwise planned to. Snyder didn’t initially back Right to Work.
Q: Could something like that happen in Illinois?
A: It’s very possible. Illinois economy is struggling, and government finances are, if anything, in even worse shape than they were in Michigan. But the unions in Illinois refuse to make concessions that we need to get our government books in balance. The Chicago Teachers Union called a strike, demanding wage hikes from a district that is broke, and refusing to accept tougher teacher evaluations in a district that’s failing academically. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, seems to be preparing for a strike against a state that’s in a $200 billion hole because of employee benefits. More and more neighboring states have right to work, and these states will be attracting businesses that might have gone to Illinois. At some point there will be a reckoning against unions that have been given tremendous power and have used it so recklessly.
Stay tuned for part three of our Right-to-Work series tomorrow.
image credit: ABC OTUS News - Right-to-Work Passed Amid Protests (ABC News)