'Protect Our Jobs' Could Increase Gov't Secrecy

The Michigan Supreme Court has approved placing an initiative known as the “Protect Our Jobs Amendment” on the Nov. 6 ballot, where it will be labeled "Proposal 2." If adopted, the measure would impact laws overseeing government union contracts, which would in effect become like mini constitutional conventions, trumping statutes passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

Private-sector unions would be affected, too, but most notably as it relates to making a right-to-work law all but impossible in Michigan.

Among other effects, the initiative could gut the Freedom of Information Act passed here in 1976 in the wake of the Watergate scandal, and restrict the public's access to information on the workings of government agencies. The FOIA establishes that the public has the right to view or get copies of government documents, subject to some exceptions like personal information.

Under Proposal 2, nothing would prohibit state or local government officials from signing a union labor contract that prohibits disclosing information otherwise required by FOIA. They could even make the collective bargaining agreement itself subject to government secrecy, and the legislature would be helpless to halt the process.

Indeed, some local officials might be tempted to whisper to local union officials that they should request such information-limiting contract provisions. It is not hard to envision that some policy related quid pro quo benefiting the union and its members might be offered to get that limit into an agreement, and probably at the expense of taxpayers.

This may seem far-fetched to some, but not to experienced journalists, most of whom have encountered government officials' resistance to perfectly legitimate requests for documents. While FOIA is an invaluable tool for reformers, journalists, researchers like Mackinac Center scholars and just plain folks seeking information on the actions of government, officials often go to great lengths to deny information citizens are legally entitled to view. (For a first-hand account of such intransigence see “MEGA, the MEDC and the Loss of Sunshine,” available on the Mackinac Center website.)

The Mackinac Center has used FOIA for everything from creating a database of collective bargaining agreements to tracking the performance of corporate welfare programs to proposals to privatize school services. Adopting Proposal 2 may make discovering what government agencies and personnel are up to next to impossible.

Gutting the FOIA is just one example of the breathtaking scope of this union power grab.

Many other laws leveling the playing field between citizens and government officials could also be at risk. Access to information that exposes government actions may be just the first casualty in this constitutional war between government employee unions and the people.

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.