Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ballot Proposal Mayhem Part II: Everyone Likes A Good Bargain Right? Right?

You came back!  That means that either you're new or your head didn't explode yesterday for which I am very happy because I didn't want to be responsible for that...  If you missed yesterday's post I talked about Ballot Proposal 12-1 which deals with the Emergency Financial Manager law, you can find that post here.   Today we're going to talk about Proposal 12-2 so without further ado...

This proposal would:
  • Grant public and private employees the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively through labor unions. 
  •  Invalidate existing or future state or local laws that limit the ability to join unions and bargain collectively, and to negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements, including employees' financial support of their labor unions.  Laws may be enacted to prohibit public employees from striking. 
  • Override state laws that regulate hours and conditions of employment to the extent that those laws conflict with collective bargaining agreements.   
  • Define "employer" as a person or entity employing one or more employees.
Should this proposal be approved?

My first and foremost problem with this proposal is that it would amend the State Constitution.  The purpose of the Constitution is to explain what the state government can and cannot do, what rights and freedoms individuals have, and it delineates the separation of power within the three branches of government.  I am against amending the constitution for a special interest that isn't directly related to protecting a right of individuals in general.  An idea like this would more appropriately be pushed through the legislature as a bill.  I understand that a bill like that would not likely pass the House or Senate with the current majority but that's why we have elections folks! Moving on...

This amendment protects the rights of a specific group of people rather than individuals as a whole which in and of itself tends towards the discriminatory.  Furthermore if a special interest can get their interest protected in the Constitution that could set a dangerous precedent where anytime someone wants something protected they bypass the legislature and have it put directly into the constitution where it can't be easily changed. That leads me to the next problem.  Amending theconstitution cannot be easily undone.  Say that in 10 or 20 years the climate of the state changes such that collective bargaining is no longer a feasible solution to employment problems, it would take a vote of the people to create an amendment that overrides this amendment. 

Throughout the Bible and history we learn of the Kingdom of the Medes and Persians and The Law of Medes and Persians.  This law was an unalterable law set up by King Darius who wanted the legacy of the Medes and Persians to last forever.  If the King declared a law to be a Law of the Medes and Persians it could not be revoked except by a new law issued by the King to override the previous law.  However a 2nd law was rarely created because it would have been an unspoken statement that the King had erred.  Creating a lasting legacy is a noble pursuit but often the unalterable laws were created in haste or drunken stupor and were not carefully thought out, the result being terrible mistakes that were never righted.  Unfortunately for the Medes and Persians their legacy did not live forever.

If we choose to put this amendment into the constitution we are essentially insuring that it will not be changed, even if it is later realized that this amendment was added in error. 

The people who initiated this proposal began their work in response to talk of a Right to Work bill in the Michigan Legislature.  Right to Work is an initiative that would allow workers who work in a unionized organization to opt out of the union.  They would not pay dues and would not have the protection of collective bargaining and the union as a whole.  No such bill has passed the legislature and made it to the desk of the governor (who has said he would not sign it anyway).  However the talk is there as recent studies by the Economic Policy Institute have shown that states with Right to Work laws have a lower cost of living as well as a lower unemployment rate (EPI Briefing Paper 299). This study also shows that states with Right to Work have wages that are 3.2% lower than non Right to Work states.  However it's sort of a wash because the unemployment rate and cost of living are lower.   

If voted into the constitution this amendment would negate all past and future laws, the number of which cannot completely known at this time.  So any laws regulating wages, hours and work conditions could go out the window if the union's collective bargaining unit decided they conflicted with what they want.  That's why the number of laws it would affect is unknown, because it would be determined by the collective bargaining units as they go.  Furthermore collective bargaining and union membership could be extended to all employees whether or not their employer wants their workers to unionize.  This dramatically affects the rights of employers and could do significant damage to the employer/employee relationship.   Basically collective bargaining units would have free reign to enact whatever laws they want.  This gives incredible and unprecedented power to an entity that is not listed as a branch of government in the constitution and has no legal checks or balances.

Lastly, collective bargaining is already protected under a number of laws.  A search of "collective bargaining" on the Michigan Legislative Website reveals a plethora of them so it's not like collective bargaining has no protection.

My opinion on 12-2: NO

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