Proposal 2 A Dream Come True for Unions And A Nightmare For Everyone Else

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Imagine that union contract language covering firefighters in Lansing or teachers in Grand Rapids or Detroit bus drivers supersedes any law (other than a prohibition on strikes) passed by those governments.

That’s the nightmare scenario – or dream scenario, if you’re a union boss -- that will unfold if Proposal 2 passes on November 6. The ballot proposal turns the Michigan constitution on its head, giving unions unprecedented power.

Let’s say Lansing city government passes a rule limiting over-time pay to 1.5 times hourly pay for employees. If Proposal 2 passed, it wouldn’t matter what Lansing decided, overtime pay rates would be decided by union contract. If Wayne County decided to provide 401(K) accounts for its workers – what most workers get in the private sector – that move could be nullified by a union contract providing defined benefit pensions.

As a citizen, you’d probably say “wait a minute, we elected public officials to spend tax dollars wisely, to balance budgets and maintain fiscal stability.” And you’d have a point.

But organized labor, whose hold on the state economy has gotten smaller, has come up with a weapon. It’s a ballot initiative that, if passed, could stem or reverse its losses. That initiative no doubt would also wreck governmental budgets from Petoskey to Lansing, or what’s left of them.

Proposal 2, the union movement’s deviously-named “Protect Our Jobs” ballot initiative, recently has been given a new and even more misleading name, the “Protect Our Working Families” initiative.

I say “deviously” and “misleading” deliberately to assert that words themselves will never protect jobs or working families. No contract language can ever ensure that we’ll be able to pay teachers, autoworkers, mechanics, pilots etc. what they believe they deserve. The best defense against job and wage loss and economic damage to working families is a rational system of incentives, with checks and balances against the excesses that ultimately lead to market failures like the housing collapse and financial crisis of 2008.

Gov. Rick Snyder, an old-school accountant with a firm grip on reality, tried to avoid all-out war with the unions as he set about putting Michigan back on a course toward economic growth. But the unions double-crossed him; they’ve embarked on a high-stakes gamble to literally change the Michigan constitution to their advantage.
Efforts to keep the union initiative off the ballot on procedural grounds failed, so now Snyder will have to expend time, energy and political capital if he wants to defeat it.

Given what Michigan voters have witnessed in terms of wealth destruction, job loss and economic damage over past decades at General Motors and statewide, it’s tough to imagine that voters will hand organized labor the economic equivalent of tactical nuclear weapons. But nothing is impossible when it comes to election campaigns.

Here’s hoping Gov. Snyder explains convincingly why Proposal 2 is a bad idea worth rejecting.

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