This week: punishment, planning and politics. Republicans in the state Legislature are saber rattling, threatening school districts, public universities, and local governments with funding cuts if they agree to extended contracts with their employee unions that are meant to delay the effects of Michigan’s right-to-work law. Let’s call them “right-to-work around” contracts.
Michigan officially becomes a right-to-work state next week. That’s when the new controversial law goes into effect. Unions will no longer be allowed to require compulsory dues or fees – unless there is already a contract in place by next Thursday that allows that to continue. The contracts clause of the U.S. Constitution says state laws cannot “impair” existing contracts. So, any contracts in effect next Thursday will remain in effect as negotiated for the duration of the contract.
But Republicans are putting language into recent budget bills that would sanction public employers with funding cuts unless they achieve big savings. Meanwhile, there are policy implications to these negotiations. School districts, for example, are using them to retire budget deficits and delay pay increases. These funding threats from Lansing are also taking some potential school reforms off the table. Things like year-round schools, which would probably add costs for things like summer air conditioning to a school district’s budget.
Action-Reaction. Some of these are un-intended consequences of plans made well in advance of last December when Republicans and Governor Rick Snyder sprung right to work. And, this all wasn’t just launched out-of-the-blue. The right-to-work “conspiracy” was hatched long before last December. Republican leaders, former Michigan Republican Chairman Ron Weiser, Dick and Betsy DeVos, had a multi-faceted plan in place. First, it was find or create an opportunity to get right-to-work onto the agenda (thank you, unions and Proposal Two).
Then, get it passed quickly without a Wisconsin-style ruckus and state Capitol occupation (done and done). And then, once it’s signed, pivot from offense to defense with political, legislative and legal tracks. So, for example, once right-to-work was passed, the Republicans and Governor Snyder changed the laws regarding recalls to make it almost impossible to get a question on recalling an elected official on the ballot. That's because unions and Democrats were doing their own saber-rattling, threatening recall campaigns against vulnerable Republicans if right-to-work came up. And, remember, Proposal Two was supposed to be a prophylactic measure to guard against the threat of right-to-work. It didn’t quite work out that way. But, right-to-work wasn’t even all the way through the Legislature when unions were plotting their own plots, political and legal actions... and these extended contracts that now have got Republicans so hopping mad. Republicans say unions are using the letter of the law to skirt the intentions of the Legislature, that they’re gaming the process rather than accepting their fate. Unions counter that they’re just following the law and the constitution, which is their right.
From the outside this whole imbroglio just seems so ironic: last December, it was unions who were complaining that Republicans were skirting the process with new language, no hearings, no public comment. Oh, how people hate the hypocrisy that is not their own.
We’ve talked about this before. In politics and government, how actions prompt reactions which prompt more reactions. But this is just so choreographed. Like West Side Story. We're imagining Republicans and Democrats as Sharks and Jets, walking through the Capitol, snapping their fingers. Why spend all that money on lawyers, consultants, and campaigns, when we could just have a good-old-fashioned Dance-off!
It’s safe to say this dance will go on for awhile longer. Maybe years. It will play out in courtrooms, political campaigns. Right-to-work is going to give political campaigns an issue to organize around. And, like we said, everyone will be yelling “sleaze” over how it got done by Republicans or how unions tried to get around it.
Conclusion-based reasoning. It’s a way of life here in Lansing.