If adopted, Proposal 2 would amend the constitution in a manner not found in any other state constitution. The amendment would realign collective bargaining relations in state and local government by clearly giving union contracts the ability to override, veto or nullify any law deemed to impair or limit the contract’s enforcement. The amendment would require the government to honor collective bargaining agreements even if the terms of the union contracts were inconsistent with state or municipal law. Further, the measure would give labor organizations the ability to force unionized employees to pay for union services regardless of an individual worker’s desire for representation.  

Proponents of Proposal 2 describe the measure as protecting working families, but it primarily involves state and local government employees, less than 3 percent of the people of Michigan. The proposal essentially seeks to enshrine the continued viability of a special interest group — organized labor — in the Michigan Constitution.

Unions’ share of the private-sector workforce has fallen for decades, and their share of the public-sector workforce has fallen since 1992, despite the modest growth of government unions. Rather than adapting to market forces and providing services tailored to today’s workforce, organized labor promotes a constitutional guarantee of its monopoly bargaining power as employees’ “exclusive representative” — a phrase used twice in Proposal 2’ first two sentences.  The future role of organized labor is a worthwhile public policy debate, but the propriety of amending the constitution to revitalize a special interest group is questionable.

The scope of public-sector bargaining has been subject to various adjustments in Michigan over the past two years. These adjustments have in many ways countered the advantages recognized by the Supreme Court in the Abood case, and they have largely been intended to ensure the protection of taxpayer interests. Michigan’s legislature has yet to advance any legislation that would change the basic premises of PERA.

Michigan’s electorate and political leaders have given collective bargaining a fair chance to work in government, and the state’s current leadership still appears to be motivated to find ways to make that process work. Indeed, the state has retained PERA’s basic tenets through a stubborn economic downturn in which real private-sector wages have declined in ways government-employee wages have not; in which the unfunded liabilities in major government-employee pension funds have soared past $25 billion; and in which neighboring states have implemented dramatic labor law revisions, such as Indiana’s right-to-work law or Wisconsin’s budget-reform legislation.

In light of the state’s recent history, the provisions of Proposal 2 are not just questionable, but disproportionate. They would drastically alter the relationships between government employers and government employees and shift the bargaining power across the table to labor organizations and away from taxpayers’ elected representatives. The result for working families — indeed, for all the people of Michigan — seems less likely to protect jobs than to create larger demands on workers’ income to supply better wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment for government employees.