As the appeal of labor unions to workers has declined, so has their political strength. That shift has caused unions to try a new tactic: locking in special protections in state constitutions.
The battle is under way in Michigan, a bastion of labor unions, where voters will consider Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment to guarantee collective bargaining rights and prohibit right-to-work laws that prevent citizens from being forced to join unions as a condition of employment.
For union officials to feel that extraordinary constitutional protections are needed, even in labor strongholds such as Michigan, suggests voter sentiment is moving against them. One reason may be the unreasonable stances often taken by unions. For example, opponents warn Proposal 2 may trump a Michigan law making it easier to fire bad teachers, among other things.
Michigan voters appear increasingly skeptical of Proposal 2 despite their historic union sympathies. A recent Detroit News poll showed just 43.2 percent of voters in support and a large pool of undecideds.
Proposal 2 is seen as trial run for similar efforts in other states. Thanks to our initiative petition process, Oklahoma could technically be a future target, although that's unlikely. In a 2001 election, 54 percent of voters supported State Question 695, which made Oklahoma a right-to-work state.
At the time, opponents argued a right-to-work law would result in lower wages and cause the loss of health care coverage for over 112,000 Oklahomans. The results haven't borne out those claims. Oklahoma's per capita income rose from $26,200 in 2001 to $37,690 in 2008 when the national recession hit. The Federal Reserve reports 83.1 percent of Oklahomans had health coverage in 2011. Our unemployment rate is among the nation's lowest.
Those results suggest efforts like Proposal 2 aren't designed to benefit workers. They're designed to boost the political power of union bosses.