Today Michigan joined Indiana to become a recent addition to the U.S. states where joining a union cannot be a condition of employment. Last week the both houses of the Michigan legislature passed Senate Bill 116 which extended right-to-work protection to all private sector employees. Today they passed House Bill 4003 which extended right-to-work protection to all public sector employees. It is a virtual certainty that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder will sign these bills into law.
Whether or not private sector unions are responsible for the demise of Michigan as the automotive manufacturing capital of the world is open to debate. One might argue that private sector unions, for all the challenges they present, operate in a self-correcting environment, because overly generous concessions to unions lead to catastrophic business failures. One might argue that private sector unions in Michigan are as ready to see that state’s economy revive as everyone else. Private sector unions weren’t the primary focus of Michigan voters when they voted for a Republican Governor, a Republican controlled State Senate, and a Republican controlled State House in November 2010, and then trusted the Republicans to maintain control of both houses in November of 2012.
It is the public sector unions in Michigan who have more recently declared war on that state’s economy, their voters, and their taxpayers. If you review union membership in Michigan using data compiled by UnionStats.org, you may be surprised to find that only 11.9% of the private sector employees, 394,814 workers, are unionized, whereas 52.0% of public employees, 276,121, are unionized. This is one of the highest concentrations of unionized public sector workers in the country, and includes 40,000 “home health care workers” who were forced in 2006 to join and pay dues to the SEIU in order to continue to receive state subsidies. For a good summary of how this scam was orchestrated read “How the Forced Unionization of Day Care and Home Health Care Providers Took Place.”
The result of the forced unionization of “home health care workers” was to alienate tens of thousands of Michigan residents who were merely caring for their elderly parents or disabled children, and were receiving state financial support to do so. And the precedent alarmed conservatives and libertarians alike; that anyone receiving a financial entitlement – not just this, but any food stamp recipient, or social security recipient, for example – could be legally classified as a state worker and be therefore compelled to join a union. But the unions didn’t blink.
In the election of 2012 there were two measures on the Michigan ballot that would have consolidated union power even further. Proposal 2 would have amended the state constitution to prevent voters from enacting any changes to the law that would violate the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. It would have invalidated any new or existing laws that violated the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. Pension reform, for example, would have become impossible to accomplish via citizen initiative or even via a vote of the legislature. Proposal 4 would have enshrined the precedent setting forced unionization of home health care workers in the state constitution. Both were defeated. And voters began to see what they were up against.
The only real problem with Michigan’s new right-to-work law is that it stops short of extending right-to-work protections to public safety employees, who are the workers who need this protection the most. As noted in the text of House Bill 4003, Section 10, subsection 4, part (a), “Subsection (3) does not apply to any of the following: (i) A public police or fire department employee or any person who seeks to become employed as a public police or fire department employee…”
The consequences of short-sighted Republican pandering to unions representing police, firefighters and prison guards, who typically vote for conservatives, can be seen in California, where cities and counties are now virtually under police and firefighter union rule, and where only the California Teachers Association has more sway in Sacramento than the prison guards union. Wisconsin’s much needed public sector union reforms excluded public safety. Now Michigan has made the same mistake. Even California’s Democratic Governor Brown correctly took his 2010 gubernatorial challenger Meg Whitman to task for excluding public safety from her pension reform proposals. In California the average firefighter now makes over $200,000 per year in total compensation – including the costs of benefits – the average police officer makes scarcely less. This totally unaffordable compensation, a direct consequence of allowing these employees to unionize, is breaking California, one city and county at a time.
Michigan took a step in the right direction today. But public sector unions, which present a unique challenge to our financial health, our democratic institutions, and our civil rights, decidedly include public safety employees.