Michigan Proposal 2: Power Grab By Unions -- Or A Way To Protect Workers?

Wisconsin collective bargaining union protests

Most American workers don't belong to unions.

Union participation
across the nation dropped from 32 percent in the 1950s to 11.9 percent last year. Yet, union battles are as intense as ever, with local politicians calling out teachers' unions to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's battle with state workers over a 2011 law limiting their right to enter into collective-bargaining agreements (photo, above). That law was overturned by a Wisconsin county judge in September -- with regard to city, county and school district workers -- but was left intact for state employees.

Michigan is the site of the most recent major labor battle, pitting unions against many large employers. On Tuesday, Michigan residents will vote on a referendum, known as Proposal 2, that would make it a constitutional right for both government and private sector union members to collectively bargain with management through unions.

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With 174 ballot measures being put before voters in 38 states on Election Day, Proposal 2 is one that has broad implications for the whole country, experts say.

"The labor movement is trying to find again its political relevancy," said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. Chaison also said that the proposal represents a "novel strategy" for unions, as it seeks to "link membership to the right of self-organization, which makes it a basic human right as enshrined in the United Nations charter."

No such measure currently exists in the U.S., and the battle over Proposal 2 has become heated. As of the beginning of November, advocates and opponents of the measure have raised a combined $48 million for advertising and other campaign efforts, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network and The Associated Press. And a recent survey sponsored by The Detroit News and TV station WDIV found that 52.5 percent of Michigan voters would vote "no" on the ballot initiative.

Opponents maintain the proposal is a threat to business.

Rich Studley, the president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, told The Hill newspaper the measure would result in "economic development suicide" for the state. His remark was geared toward the proposal's ban on any right-to-work laws.

Such "right-to-work" laws are already on the books in 23 states, but not including Michigan. Long favored by Republicans, the laws make it illegal for employment contracts to include a requirement for workers to either join a union or pay union dues, both of which are helpful in organizing collective bargaining efforts among workers.

Opponents are going further in their denunciations of the proposal.

"This is a money grab, it's a power grab on the part of organized labor," Studley told The Associated Press.

Indeed, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, released a memo in July, saying that the proposal would impose "breathtaking" limits on how state and local governments would be able to set budgets and employment terms, arguing that labor contracts would override laws already on the books.

But Chaison sees the proposal as on par with the Wisconsin efforts.

The labor movement leaders "are saying, if collective bargaining rights can be limited by measures in state legislatures, then they can also be protected there too," he argues. (Since the 2010 midterm elections, Indiana and Ohio have also passed legislation curtailing workers' rights to form unions and collectively bargain. The measure in Ohio, however, was overturned last year by voters.)

"The labor movement fears legislation imposing a national right-to-work law. And so this proposal is an attempt to pre-empt that," Chaison says.

Advocates of Proposal 2 see the measure as a means to protect workers' rights in negotiating for higher salaries and benefits.

"This isn't your grandfather's Republican party," John Armelagos, vice president of the Michigan Nurses Association, told The Hill. "They are authoritarian. These aren't leave-me-alone types. All we are trying to do here to establish a fair playing field." He went on to emphasize how the drive to pass Proposal 2 was also influenced by measures that have been passed in Michigan since current Gov. Rick Snyder took office in 2010, such as forcing public workers to take on more of their health and retirement costs.

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The state of Michigan has a union participation rate of 18.3 percent, just behind New York's 24.1 percent, Alaska's 22.1 percent and Hawaii's 21.5 percent. But the state is nevertheless a smart choice to launch such a campaign, says Chaison, because of its strong union culture dating back to the heyday of the auto industry.

Rich Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, already has expressed a desire to export the proposal to other states if it's approved. And according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Workforce Freedom Initiative, 18 other states allow their state constitutions to be amended by ballot initiatives.

"Ballot measures is something we see every four years," says Chaison. "And you always see measures about physician-assisted suicide, among other issues. But it's very rare to have something that will show where the labor movement is going for the next few decades."

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Chris & Craig

why should I ahve to pay UNION DUES in order to work and take care of my family. That is pure total bullshit at the highest level. If I join the Union thats on me but to be told I ahve to pay those JACKASS UNIONS dues so that i can work they can all go fu*k themselves

November 06 2012 at 8:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ricklexus

People have the right to free assembly, but we taxpayers also have the right to NOT recognize Unions. Cities and states should not "bargain" with such third parties if it has ANY financial impact on the public. Clubs, organizations and memebrship to any group comes with both burden and reward, but they should remain internal rewards..free from conditions not yet approved by the voting public.

November 06 2012 at 8:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
amsparky3

It is a shame that everyday hard working Americans are being fooled by so called free-market capitalist wrapped in a flag and at the same time pointing to COMMUNIST CHINA as the "new economic model of success" and reeping profits off of facist style agrrements with the chineese gov't and business to undercut American jobs, American workers who are the very same tax payers and consumers. Wake up America!

November 06 2012 at 7:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
boliviascs

This Prop 2 in MI is a joke on the people.

If passed, anyone getting money from the state (even those receiving funds to care for sick parents at home), would be forced to join a union and have dues automatically deducted from what little they get.

Unions dont care about anybody or anyone except the dues they can collect from them.

November 06 2012 at 7:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
faturism

Today, unions = thugs

November 06 2012 at 5:50 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Terry L Johnston

I know that without the unions the work conditions would become even worse!! The owners/management try to convince lay people that the unions protect bad employees--that's not true at all! The union forces management to properly document the failings of an employee to create "just cause" for punishment or termination! The supervisors don't like it because they are forced to DO THEIR JOB and not to reap benefits only on the "ass kissers" which they would prefer!!

November 06 2012 at 5:41 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
mclaramc3

There was a time when unions was needed in the work place. But today people are very smart and for the most part can speak for themselves.

November 06 2012 at 5:18 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Robyn

I'm in Michigan... The majority of people I know - and many of them work for city and county government - are voting "NO" on Proposal 2. The frightening thing about this proposal is that it would give the unions the power to overturn laws if they don't like them. The union would have more authority than our lawmakers. It is a dangerous issue - especially for our kids that could possibly be put at risk in the public school system. If the unions can control the law - who is there to protect the kids?

November 06 2012 at 2:50 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Robyn's comment
boliviascs

Agreed 100%. I'm also from MI and to me, defeating prop 2 is the most race today for the people of MI.

November 06 2012 at 7:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jchowell3657

Look at the states with growing populations and relatively healthy budgets and state economies. They are the right-to-work, low-tax business friendly states. Look at the states that are losing population and going broke. They are the forced-union, high-tax, business-hostile states. Go for it, Michigan! We in America will gladly accept your productive refugees.

November 06 2012 at 2:36 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Karl Hammerle

We had a union at my last job before retiring. The union spent all its time defending the jobs of people who should have been fired summarily and promoting the Democrat party using members dues.

November 06 2012 at 1:55 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

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