News Story

What the ‘Protect Our Jobs’ Amendment Would Mean For Michigan

The damage would be enormous

The union-backed proposal known as “Protect Our Jobs” has mostly been sold as enshrining collective bargaining privileges into the Michigan Constitution and fending off a right-to-work law that could be passed at some point in the future.

These points are being debated by both sides, but the main effect of the POJA initiative being passed by voters in November is far less known and would do far more damage than either of the typically discussed positions.

Tucked into the middle, part of the union petition reads, “No existing or future law of the state or its political subdivisions shall abridge, impair or limit” unions’ ability to “negotiate in good faith regarding wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. … ”

In short: Aside from a couple exceptions, no state law past, present or future could limit what government union officials could win in labor contracts.

Here are some practices that would start again or continue if the constitutional amendment were to pass:

  • Allegations of kissing students, head-locking children, sexual misconduct, drug use and distributing alcohol to minors was not enough to keep Michigan school districts from paying out millions to get rid of problem teachers in the past five years because of strict union-backed tenure rules. At the same time, districts all over the state were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees trying to get rid of tenured teachers. The legislature passed a tweak to the tenure law that would make it easier to get rid of incompetent or deficient educators – that law would be repealed.
  • Statewide, 39 school districts pay out several million dollars per year to teachers who spend at least half of their time on union business. These are union bosses who are paid while teaching no students or contributing to education. The Michigan House passed a bill banning this select release time — that law would be halted.
  • Royal Oak eliminated bus services for students, saving $593,162 per year, but could have saved $894,707 by simply ensuring that employees pay 20 percent of their own health care costs. Many other districts across the state have cut educational services while receiving more money from taxpayers as they shuffle that money into health insurance costs. The legislature passed a bill mandating that public employees pay 20 percent of their health care (the average private-sector employee pays over 20 percent) — that bill would be repealed.
  • Sarah Cunningham, an English and history teacher in Jackson, was touted by the Michigan Education Association and others as exceptional — the educator has a master's degree, has written two books and is an in-demand speaker across the country. Because of the local contract, she was pink-slipped by the district because of seniority rules. In Ann Arbor, the district uses social security numbers as the "tie-breaker" when determining layoffs. These districts and many more across the state are required by the union contracts to use seniority as the basis for layoffs rather than performance. The legislature ended “last in, first out” mandates last year — this law would be repealed.
  • Employee unions, which use teacher dues on political campaigns, were banned from using public schools to collect their dues for them. In response, local unions have to go to their members to get money. This has resulted in some unions demanding the bank account or credit card numbers of their members. This law would be repealed by the amendment.
  • Under POJA, nothing would stop local governments and unions from stripping down transparency laws by prohibiting the disclosure of information that would otherwise be freely available to the public. Michigan Capitol Confidential has used FOIA laws extensively to break dozens of stories exposing government waste and, occasionally, criminal activity. 
  • In the Troy School District, before parents are asked to volunteer at sporting events, teachers must be asked to serve as ticket takers, official timers, or "adult supervisors" where they make as much as $46. If POJA passed, the Legislature could never pass a law requiring parents to be allowed to volunteer at school sporting events if the local collective bargaining agreement barred it.
  • The water department for Detroit and the surrounding municipalities employs a horseshoer — despite the department having no horses. If the legislature wanted to pass a law requiring government entities to actually have work for someone to have a position paid for by taxpayers, that law would be prevented by this amendment.

These are just a few of the hundreds of laws that could be overridden by the proposed constitutional change.

Government unions have an unfair advantage over taxpayers because the incentives of public policymakers are primarily political rather than profit-centered. That is, local school board members and town commissioners want to be re-elected and superintendents want to keep their jobs, which handcuffs them as they go to bat with powerful labor unions that spend tens of millions of dollars on elections.

A constitutional amendment would not "protect our jobs." It would ensure the continuation of illogical provisions and local fiscal calamity.

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.