The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Unions Lose Big in Michigan

Blue governance scored a victory on Tuesday in California, where voters came out in support of a large tax hike, but in Michigan, unions suffered a big defeat. Proposal Two, which would have written the right for collective bargaining by public-sector unions into the state constitution, was roundly defeated by 58 percent of voters. This is a major setback for the unions, who threw everything they had into getting the ballot measure passed. The Huffington Post reports:

If Proposal 2 had become an amendment, it would have voided existing and future laws restricting workers’ ability to organize unions, or to negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements, including employees’ financial support of their labor unions. But it still would have permitted lawmakers to pass legislation prohibiting public employees from striking. The measure would have also overridden state laws regulating hours and conditions of employment to the extent that those laws conflicted with collective bargaining agreements.

Big bucks went into campaigning both for and against the issue. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, opponents had raised $25.9 million to defeat Proposal 2 as of October 26. Those supporting the measure raised $21.9 million over the same period of time.

This wasn’t the only setback for Michigan’s unions. Proposal Four, which would have allowed home health care workers to unionize and collectively bargain, was also shot down, this time by 57 percent of the voters. And as with Proposal Two, this measure had significant union support, to the tune of $5.5 million from the SEIU. The Huffington Post reports:

The new council would have been responsible for training home health care workers, creating an employee registry, holding background checks and offering financial services to patients to manage the costs of care. It would also have allowed workers to bargain collectively and authorized the council to set minimum compensation standards and terms and conditions of employment.

There was one consolation for the unions. The emergency manager law, which had allowed state-appointed managers to take over struggling cities and renegotiate union contracts, was struck down narrowly, by a vote of 53 percent to 47 percent. The New York Times has more:

Among the voices that have vehemently opposed the law, labor unions were livid because it gave emergency managers the authority to tear up contracts that cities had already agreed on. Critics called the law undemocratic and an example of “state bureaucrats” overstepping their bounds. . .

As the dust settled on Wednesday, Mr. Snyder and other state officials said emergency managers around the state would remain in place under the older emergency manager law, though they no longer have the ability to undo the provisions of labor contracts. All consent agreements established while the law was in effect would remain valid, said Terry Stanton, a spokesman for the State Treasury Department.

The overall story, however, was of a major defeat for the unions, who staked their time, money and reputations on all of these battles and only pulled off a narrow victory in one. Michigan has historically been a union-friendly state. If unions are losing battles here, they should be seriously worried about much of the rest of the country.

The vote is also a sign that despite President Obama’s victories there, and the defeat of a number of GOP Senate hopefuls, the Middle West is fertile territory for common sense government ideas, coherently presented and carefully shaped. Michigan voters didn’t, as some despairing GOPers mourn, ‘turn their backs on American principles,’ embrace socialism or any other such nonsense. From Minnesota to Ohio voters are hungry for practical solutions to the problems created by the erosion of the blue social model; the party that develops real and sustainable solutions can win their trust and support.

Published on November 8, 2012 5:00 pm