A Reform Movement Is Born

Lawmakers in Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan zeroing in on the union establishment

Across the upper Midwest, in Michigan and neighboring states, lawmakers are beginning to focus on unions — especially government employee unions — and the damaging role they have played.

In Michigan, Rep. Amanda Price, R-Holland, has introduced a bill to repeal the state's prevailing wage law, which prohibits granting government construction project contracts to the lowest bidder unless the company pays union scale wages. Enacted at a time when unions made up a much larger part of the construction work force, this law adds 10 percent to the cost of infrastructure and other projects. Currently less than a quarter of construction workers in Michigan are union members, and unionized or not they all tend to make above-average wages anyway.  Rep. Price's bill would allow the state to make use of the same construction market as private companies and individuals.

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In Ohio, the state Legislature is looking at a proposal to eliminate collective bargaining for state employees, and sharply limit the scope of bargaining in local governments.  At the same time Wisconsin's Legislature is considering legislation to put severe restrictions on public-sector bargaining, basically limiting negotiable subjects to wages, and limiting pay hikes to the rate of inflation. This could be serious — the Badger State's new governor has advised the National Guard to "take precautions." 

Back in Michigan, government employee unionism has imposed huge costs, empowering unions at the expense of citizens, forcing taxpayers to pay oversized benefits to their public servants, and subsidizing a permanent lobby for big government.

Two legislators here, Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, and Rep. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, have introduced "local right-to-work" bills, allowing counties or municipalities to prohibit forcing workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Local right-to-work is not without its problems, among which are questions about whether federal law allows the reform at any level except the state, but Michigan is long overdue for a debate about the wisdom of allowing unions to collect forced dues and fees from workers. Right-to-work states have been growing and adding jobs, while Michigan's economy has stagnated, a pattern that's been underway for decades.

This new interest in unions is a welcome development, but it will be up to the voters of Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan to make sure their elected officials follow through.