The Michigan labor movement, led by the United Auto Workers, blundered badly this fall by spending as much as $20 million in a futile effort to insert an amendment that would have protected collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. Voters, overwhelmed by a ballot crammed with five amendments and one referendum, decisively rejected them all.
Votes were still being counted when labor‘s enemies gleefully began calling for the Legislature to enact “right-to-work” legislation that would end the requirement that workers at an enterprise represented by a union join it, or at least pay dues. Republicans probably have the votes to pass such legislation, and to put GOP Gov. Rick Snyder under heavy pressure to sign it.
But doing so would be ill-advised and foolish, and might turn out as badly for the Republicans as the ballot drive did for the unions and their allies. Mr. Snyder, who is all about improving the business climate in Michigan, has said repeatedly that right-to-work laws aren‘t necessary. But less wise members of the party are so eager to spank the unions that they are ignoring the nasty backlash that is almost sure to result.
The fact that 58 percent of voters were unwilling to clutter the constitution with a collective bargaining amendment doesn’t mean they are anti-union. The same voters who turned thumbs down on all the amendments gave President Obama a near-landslide victory, and rejected Pete Hoekstra, a right-to-work candidate for the U.S. Senate, by a million votes.
Union membership in the private sector is a shadow of what it once was. But trying to destroy unions could easily provoke a ferocious outpouring of spending against Republicans in the midterm elections two years from now.
The Michigan Legislature has a lot that urgently needs to be done, from figuring out how to replace the rejected emergency manager law, to coping with Detroit’s meltdown, to the governor’s crusade for personal, meaning property, tax reform. A legislative jihad against the labor movement is the last thing the state, labor, or the GOP needs.