President Joseph G. Lehman Debates 'Protect Our Jobs' Ballot Proposal at the Mackinac Policy Conference

UAW President a Debate No-Show

(Editor’s note: Below are the edited remarks and a video excerpt of Mackinac Center President Joseph G. Lehman delivered at a May 31, 2012, debate on the “Protect Our Jobs” constitutional ballot initiative at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual Mackinac Island Policy Conference. Lehman was originally scheduled to debate UAW President Bob King, but the “Protect Our Jobs” campaign instead sent a substitute. After the debate, attendees voted 77-23 percent against the union-backed ballot measure.)

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Edited Remarks by Joseph G. Lehman

Imagine you live in a state where government services work pretty well, everything from education to picking up the trash. And imagine that while nobody likes paying taxes for those services, what you do pay is about the same or even lower than most other states.

And lastly, imagine that whenever there’s a problem with those services, your voice is heard and teachers and local officials work with you, not against you, to get those problems solved.

If the “Protect Our Jobs” amendment passes, you’ll always be able to imagine a state like that, but it won’t be Michigan.

That’s because “Protect Our Jobs” is a radical constitutional amendment that makes unions more powerful than the Legislature. Unions will set public policy in secret negotiations with their employer, and lawmakers won’t be able to override anything they decide.

This will drive up the cost of services without making them any better, set up a rigged game designed to benefit a select few, and it’s the kind of thing Michigan voters and courts have already rejected repeatedly.

I’m going to emphasize three numbers: 49, 3 percent* and three.

Forty-nine is the number of states that will stay ahead of Michigan economically or surpass us if the amendment wins.

“Protect Our Jobs” makes unionized government a constitutional mandate. But this amendment doesn’t stop there. It also explicitly nullifies all past and future laws related to collective bargaining, except those related to strikes.

It’s common for union contracts to contain indefensible provisions like bans on volunteers helping in schools and libraries and bans on taking job performance into account for promotions and layoffs. This amendment means the Legislature can’t correct any of that.

We can’t estimate the total cost of the amendment yet. But it’s clear that at least $1.4 billion of the savings the Legislature produced last year would vanish instantly.

We lagged 49 other states in economic performance for about a decade. This amendment would likely put us there again.

The next number is 3 percent. This amendment rigs the game in favor of the 3 percent of Michigan’s population who work in unionized government at the state, local or school levels.

This amendment’s only impact on the middle class is they get to pay more so the 3 percent can shield themselves from the economic world 97 percent of us live in. Their pay and rich benefits can keep going up while ours stagnate. The middle class will be sheared like sheep, as long as they stick around.

And the amendment won’t help union workers at private companies because their labor rules are set by federal law, not state. New companies won’t want to move here either if the amendment keeps us from becoming a right-to-work state.

The last number is three. That is the number of times in the last decade voters or courts rejected similar amendments pushed by unions to rig the game in their favor.

Fifty-four percent of voters refused to carve collective bargaining into the state Constitution in 2002. Sixty-two percent of voters refused to mandate automatic annual increases in school costs in 2006, most of which would have gone to unionized workers.

In 2010, the courts rejected the Reform Michigan Government Now amendment after we found the UAW’s secret PowerPoint whose title explained their true purpose: “Changing the rules of politics in Michigan to help Democrats.”

That’s three failed attempts to rig the game, already.

Even New Deal Democrats can oppose this amendment in good conscience. FDR himself said, “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”

Unionized government ensnares people who don’t even work for government. One union came into Sherry Loar’s private home day care, called her a government worker, and started taking dues from her. And the SEIU is still skimming $30 million and counting from parents like Rob and Pat Haynes, who care for their disabled children at home with Medicaid assistance.

“Protect Our Jobs” would make abuses like these more likely and much harder to undo. It’s a radical plan to rig the game in favor of the 3 percent, which makes it inherently unfair, and voters may have the chance to reject this kind of thing for the fourth time come November.

*This estimate was adjusted from two to three after a better data source for federal government unionization in Michigan was factored in. The actual number of unionized state, local and school employees in Michigan is around 2.7 percent. 

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