Commentary
11:44 am
Wed March 7, 2012

Going for Broke

For weeks, I heard rumors that a coalition of unions were going to try to get a state constitutional amendment on the ballot to prevent the legislature from making Michigan a so-called "right-to-work" state. That is, one where workers could no longer be required to join or pay dues to a union. Well, the unions revealed their proposal yesterday.

And it stunned pretty much everyone. It would, indeed, stop or repeal any right-to-work efforts. But it also would go way beyond that. The amendment essentially says the lawmakers could do nothing to put limits on collective bargaining. Besides preventing any new anti-union bills, that might invalidate a number of existing laws.

In any event, it would be a full employment act for boatloads of  lawyers, who would be hired to fight over what this means. Here’s the full text of the proposed constitutional amendment:

“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.”

What does that mean? Well, it seems pretty safe to say it would severely curb the power of any emergency managers, who, as it now stand, can void or change any collective bargaining agreements.

It also means an end to trying to take away the right to bargain from public employee unions.

Remember the just-passed bill that banned graduate student assistants at Michigan universities from unionizing? Even if Governor Snyder signs it, this amendment would make it null and void.

Plus, lots of other laws might be overturned, at least in part,, including the one limiting how much public employers can contribute to the cost of employees’ health insurance.

My guess is that Governor Snyder is peeved at the legislature over this. Snyder told the lawmakers he didn’t think right-to-work was a good idea. He felt it wasn’t needed, and there was no need to unnecessarily provoke labor.

But his fellow Republicans wouldn’t listen. They were gleefully determined to sock it to the unions. And now they’ve got this. I suppose they could challenge the wording of this amendment as overbroad; that has occasionally worked in the past. However, that seems a long shot.

If the unions put their full organizational weight behind the petition drive, they are likely to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Then, it will be up to the Republicans to try to defeat it.

You can bet both sides will spend vast sums on this one. For the unions, this really is do or die. Incidentally, if this gets on the ballot, the Republican presidential nominee can probably kiss any chance of winning Michigan goodbye, thanks to the huge turnout of union-friendly folks likely to result.

My guess is that this proposal will get on the ballot, and will pass, probably narrowly. Then, the anti-union forces last hope will be the Michigan Supreme Court, which is bound to be kept working overtime. There is a reason you don’t want to poke a beehive with a stick. If this gets on the ballot and passes, some of the anti-union zealots in Lansing may start to figure out why.