In the April 27 edition of The Detroit News, Daniel Howes asks an entirely fair question: "What's the fix, labor, if EM law dies?"
The problem is he's asking the wrong party. Asking the unions for alternatives to PA 4 is somewhat like asking the Japanese military for alternatives to bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a means of ending the war in the Pacific. The unions are not likely to give us any workable solutions. To a large extent they are the problem.
PA 4 is not without its drawbacks. Its critics have been self-serving, but they raise a fair point when they say that the law undermines local control. Of course, the emergency manager law has always had that tendency. The original Public Act 72, passed during the Blanchard administration, effectively had EM's standing in for local elected officials in a wide range of activities, including collective bargaining.
The saving grace of PA 4 and the entire EM law is also its main limitation: the appointment of an emergency manager is a last resort, rarely reached. As of right now there are only eight in place in the entire state out of some 3,000 local governments and school districts.
Howes says that "no self-respecting labor leader would accede to such an assault" — but that's entirely wrong.
A self-respecting labor leader would understand that all rights, including any right to collective bargaining, come with responsibilities, and your rights do not negate the rights of others. A self respecting labor leader with at least an understanding of economics deeper than "WE WANT MORE!" would accept that the right to bargain collectively has to stop at the point where cities and school districts are teetering on bankruptcy, because the general public has a right to a functional government.
A self-respecting union leader with any regard for any interest but his own would probably want to have tempered PA 4 when it was proposed. The Mackinac Center's original proposal provided for judicial review to prevent abuses and that might be something a self-respecting union leader would want to insist on — but he would understand why something like PA 4 was needed. Either that or he would make it a policy to back down when cities and school districts are in financial distress, so that it would not be needed. They would accept these limits because they would understand that their "right" to bargain collectively (It's not an absolute right, but we won't dwell on that right now) is not a right to drive communities into bankruptcy, and any self-respecting union leader wouldn't want it to become one.
The motivating force behind much of the government union movement is not so much self-respect as much as an overbearing sense of entitlement.
Capital Confidential recently called attention to an article on an MEA union website in which a teacher complained that she would not be able to retire at the age of 47 as she had hoped. Seriously, aside from professional athletes and entertainers, who really expects to retire comfortably before the age of 50? Where did this teacher get the idea that she would be able to do this? And why did the union see fit to repeat her complaint and adopt it as his own? Is this sort of unreality at all consistent with self-respect?
Howes goes on to ask the unions for their alternatives to PA 4. As it happens, there are alternatives, and arguably better ones, but they are the sorts of things that union officials in this state will not appreciate: further limits on collective bargaining, a prohibition on defined-benefit pensions and a right-to-work law to defund the union political machine.
These are all reforms that have broader effects because they apply long before a government is insolvent, and with any luck they should prevent cities and school districts from ever being in such severe financial straits. And unlike the emergency manager law they all leave local officials in control of local affairs.
So there are alternatives to, PA 4. But none of them will come about just by repealing the law, and they are the sorts of things that government unions will like even less.
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