A Crucible for Change: Governmental Responsibility

Cultural Pitstop

Lately, there seems to be a shift in public attitude toward government. Perhaps it’s the massive dysfunction of the Obamacare website. Perhaps it’s residual frustration with the government shutdown. But it seems to be real — people are growing a little more skeptical of big government, and in a bipartisan way. 

Take for instance the eight public school employees in Michigan who are now represented by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation. Each tried to opt out of their union after the passage of Michigan’s right-to-work law. They were never told about the “August Window,” which before right-to-work meant that a teacher could only resign their membership during one specific month out of the year. Otherwise the administrative burdens would be too onerous, the union has argued. The Michigan Employment Relations Commission, in 2004, before right to work, had agreed with the MEA that an increase in paperwork for the union trumped teachers’ First Amendment rights.

These are the inevitable oversteps when government overreaches itself, and it always does.

Take this quote from the AFL-CIO policy director Damon Silvers, reported by Salon on Oct. 17, 2013.  In the context of proposed entitlement reform in the wake of the government shutdown, Silvers said, “The labor movement is going to fight to the death to stop cuts to Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. Not ‘unreasonable cuts.’ Not ‘cuts without tax increases.’ Cuts period. We’re against all of them, we will fight them ferociously, and we will give no cover to any [one] who supports them.”

The good news is, despite the impact this tribalistic attitude has on people from all walks of life, all walks of life are getting tired of it.

As Miriam Chanski, the lead MCLF plaintiff and a young kindergarten teacher in Coopersville, put it: “I don’t have a bone to pick with the unions at all. We have a right to opt in or out, but I expect that right to be honored.”

For Chanski, it’s not about politics. It’s about respect for her right to choose association with an organization or not. Respect and honor: two excellent principles to start from for everybody.

Perhaps it’s time public-sector union officials started taking notes.

Because let’s face it — the overstepping happens incrementally and undercover, too. Take our latest study, “Benefits and Balance,” from James Hohman, assistant director of fiscal policy. James monitors the outpacing of public to private benefits over the years, and points out that benchmarking public-sector benefits at all levels of government in Michigan to private-sector averages would save taxpayers $5.8 billion a year. 

To give this some perspective, that kind of money could have funded all of the private endeavors to restore Detroit post-bankruptcy, and then some. 

This roughshod attitude towards union members’ rights and taxpayers’ money may truly be a turning point for people — it just might be that inevitable crucible for change.