News Story

Mich. GOP Lawmakers More Intimidated by Government Unions?

In Michigan, just 11.1 percent of workers in the private sector belong to unions, vs. 48.9 percent of those employed by governments and public schools. That’s one of the measures in a new “Big Labor vs. Taxpayers” index produced by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which rates states on 23 different indicators of union power and privilege. Overall, Michigan scores right in the middle at number 25.  

The relatively small number of non-government workers in unions may explain an interesting legislative voting pattern that may be at work here: Republican lawmakers appear less united in challenging the powers and privileges of government employee unions than those which organize workers in the private sector.

For example, in June, every Republican in the Michigan House and Senate voted “yes” on a new law prohibiting governments from imposing a “project labor agreement” mandate on contractors who win government construction project bids. This reform would trim the power of traditional private-sector industrial unions, specifically those in the building trade, but have no direct effect on government unions.

In contrast, practically every vote this year on measures that trim the sails of government employee unions has seen small numbers of GOP defectors:

  • Five Senate Republicans voted “no” on a bill that prohibited seniority-based “step” pay hikes for school and government employees when the union agreement that authorized these has expired and no replacement has been signed (all Republicans in the House voted “yes”). 
  • One Republican House member voted against the law giving emergency managers sent in to clean up fiscally failing schools and local governments the power to toss out existing union contracts; no GOP senators opposed the measure. 
  • A bill that bans putting government union stewards on the public payroll to do union work passed the House in April with three Republicans voting “no,” and ever since has been stalled in the Senate Reforms Committee (chaired by Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Grand Rapids).

In addition, a bill banning the “stealth unionization” of private individuals contracted to provide a service paid for with government money (including home health aides) passed the House in April with all Republicans on board, but since then has been held-up in the same Senate Reforms Committee.  

As reported earlier by CapCon, Michigan’s most powerful government employee union, the MEA teachers union, is currently bankrolling recall campaigns against Republicans who voted for these and some other reforms. The outcome of those recalls may well determine whether there will be any further votes on legislation trimming the perks and power of government employees and their unions.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.