Michigan voters will be faced with a number of proposals to amend the state's constitution. One of these is Proposal 2 which is being pitched as a means to prevent any "right to work" legislation from being enacted. TV commercials in support of the proposal feature teachers and firemen explaining how they know best what needs to be done to do their job properly. Who doesn't support teachers and firemen? The impact of the proposal goes far beyond prohibiting "right to work" legislation; it makes public sector collective bargaining agreements virtually untouchable under state law.Michigan's Governor Snyder has repeatedly stated that right to work is not on his agenda and is a divisive issue. Nevertheless, Proposal 2 is supported by organized labor. The relationship between union members/employees and management in the public sector is unique since the employees have the ability to elect their "bosses"--school boards, county commissioners, and city officials, and unions can impact elections through their financial support of the candidates. This is a far different scenario than is found in the private sector.The amendment states that no existing or future law of the state or its political subdivisions shall abridge, impair, or limit the unions' ability to negotiate in good faith regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. So what is the concern? Remember, this will have a dramatic impact in the public sector where there are currently laws which limit subjects are bargaining. With respect to education, the Michigan Education Association has already targeted subjects previously untouchable under states law in a memo to its chapters. Among the subjects included are protection of new teachers from layoff; use of private or charter schools; reforms to tenure programs; caps on government contributions to employee health insurance; privatization of non of non instructional services; and the Freedom of Information Act. The proposal would also impact the mandatory arbitration of police and fire disputes which includes binding arbitration. The proposal elevates the collective bargaining agreements in the public sector to an almost untouchable status under state law. The proposal would change Michigan's Constitution in a manner not found in any other state constitution. Passage would introduce an element of uncertainty and the potential for financial chaos in a state still feeling its way through an unprecedented economic hardships. No doubt public employers and unions in other states will be closely watching the fate of this proposal.
For additional Labor and Employment law insights from John Holmquist, visit the Michigan Employment Law Connection.
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