Ballot Watch: Unions
Welcome to Ballot Watch. Today is the first in the series of articles on the upcoming ballot initiatives and some key local elections. Some of these will cover topics in common with multiple states, while others will look at a state level.
What better time to kick off the Ballot Watch series then on Labor Day, when we can take a look at some of the state ballot initiatives that will affect workers this coming November.
Idaho has three attempts to repeal new education reform laws which shifted to merit pay, eliminated tenure, and removed class size from collective bargaining. South Dakota has a similar repeal measure on the ballot. Illinois has a question intended to limit increases in pension benefits for public workers. Michigan has a ballot question that would allow home health care providers to unionize, and another that would repeal the state’s Emergency Manager program. North Carolina has an initiative that would make it harder for workplaces to unionize.
Let’s look briefly at each of these ballot initiatives. How do you feel about them? Do you think any of them will affect voter turnout? Some of them are in presidential swing states — might they affect the Presidential election?
Propositions 1 and 2 (known as the Idaho Teachers’ Collective Bargaining Veto Referendums) seek to repeal two related laws that restrict teachers’ collective bargaining and collective bargaining agreements. Proposition 3 was filed after a third, previously-pending education-related law was signed into effect. All three seek to repeal recent Idaho laws.
The three laws are collectively known as the “Students Come First” laws (have you ever noticed the skill Republicans have in naming laws?) or the “Luna laws,” named after school Superintendent Tom Luna. These laws stripped many collective bargaining rights from Idaho’s teachers, established a performance-based bonus pay system for teachers, and imposed what it called “21st century technology” measures to phase in laptop computers for all high school students and to require future graduates to earn at least two course credits online (thus reducing the need for teachers).
Mike Lanza of Boise, who chairs the “No” campaign and co-founded Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, said, “We do not believe the best way to try to teach kids is to replace a teacher with a computer and a requirement.”
In South Dakota, the Teachers Union Veto Referendum, Referred Law 16, would block a bill that was signed into law and supported by South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard. According to the text of the bill, it would:
establish a teacher scholarship program; create a program for math and science teacher bonuses; create a program for teacher merit bonuses; mandate a uniform teacher and principle evaluation system; and eliminate state requirements for teacher tenure.
South Dakota’s educators are opposed to the intrusion of the legislature into state schools and the way they are run. The veto referendum effort against the bill was organized by the South Dakota Education Association. The SDEA’s Amanda Mack said, “This bill is not the solution to the problems facing education in South Dakota. If we were able to fund the [state education] formula properly and able to give schools the resources that they need to determine what teachers to hire, what textbooks they need, what supplies they need we’d be in a much better position than we are.”
The ballot measure in Illinois is not a repeal of existing laws as in Idaho and South Dakota, but an attempt to enact Constitutional Amendment 49, which would require a three-fifths vote by the General Assembly before the legislature could approve pension benefit increases for state employees. Apparently, “majority rules” is not good enough for Illinois (as with the US Senate, it must be “supermajority rules”). Nor do the current Republican legislators trust mere laws to regulate state pensioners, but must enact those regulations through Constitutional amendment, in order to make it much harder to change later.
Thus we have three states attempting to demonize public employee unions — and most particularly, teachers, the people with whom we trust the minds and education of our children.
There are two ballot initiatives of interest to labor in Michigan. One would allow unionization of workers who provide home health care for elderly and disabled persons. This amendment would alter regulations for safety and training for home care workers, and guarantee those workers’ collective-bargaining rights. Supporters of the measure say it would give home health care patients and their families access to more information about workers’ backgrounds, and would allow more of those who need care to remain in their own homes.
Dohn Hoyle, executive director of The Arc (a statewide association of health care workers) and co-chairman of the ballot proposal campaign, stresses that the measure would establish a registry of home health care workers, this providing “a simple, straightforward way to select care.”
Critics of the proposal say it is an attempt by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to turn home health workers into public sector union members in order to “skim” union dues from their wages. In other words, the critics are opposing the amendment through demonization of public worker unions.
The other labor-related Michigan ballot measure deals with an attempt to block Michigan’s Public Act 4, the “Emergency Manager” law. This law allows the Governor (or, more properly, the Secretary of State) to unilaterally assume direct control of any Michigan city government or school system, fire public workers, void public employee contracts, fire elected officials, and appoint a manager to run the seized city by executive command. (I previously wrote about the Emergency Manager law, among other ongoing Michigan shenanigans.)
The petition drive to put a repeal of the law on the November ballot easily collected enough signatures, but was initially blocked by the Republican-controlled legislature because the printed petitions supposedly used the wrong font. (I’m not joking.) It took a decision by the Michigan Supreme Court to get the petitions approved and to get the measure on the ballot.
To be clear on what’s happening here: The Republican-controlled Governor and legislature of Michigan (you know Republicans, the guys who insist that all things American should be under local control) are trying to suspend local democracy by allowing the governor to appoint petty dictators to municipal fiefdoms, while deposing the duly-elected local governments. This referendum will give the voters of Michigan a chance to approve or disapprove of this power.
Note that the law has already been used to oust the governments of the cities Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, and Ecorse, and the officials in the public school systems of Detroit and Highland Park, all places with high concentrations of minorities and union workers.
Another Republican-sponsored anti-union Constitutional amendment is on the ballot in North Carolina. This one would prevent workplaces from unionizing though the process of having a majority of workers sign a union card, a process that has come to be known as “card check”. Instead, this Amendment would require secret ballots for the formation of a union at a workplace.
The “card check” procedure makes it easier to establish a union, because the process does not involve employers, and indeed can happen without the knowledge or intervention of an employer. As a rule, employers don’t like it for this reason. It is harder for employers to interfere.
Proponents of the proposed Amendment in North Carolina claim that a secret ballot to establish a union would allow workers to be “free from union boss intimidation” (an argument which is, itself, a form of manipulative intimidation). Traditionally, however, the process of running and monitoring a secret ballot allows employers to engage in their own intimidation, including employe “education” programs (involving such things as threats of downsizing or plant closings in the event of a union becoming established) and posting of anti-union messaging throughout the workplace.
State Representative Tim Moffitt of Asheville, NC, said, “What we’re looking to is to do is amend our state constitution to prohibit card check from ever becoming a reality in our state.” MaryBe McMillan, Secretary-Treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, countered by saying the Amendment is “unnecessary and could potentially cost our state and our taxpayers a lot of money in litigation,” and it “would essentially rewrite the federal National Labor Relations Act.”
In terms of the Presidential election, these initiatives are unlikely to have an appreciable impact. While Michigan and North Carolina are, to varying degrees, battleground states, the initiatives tend to be divisive enough that they lead to increased turnout from both sides of the issue. As a result, it’s hard to see how their presence on the ballot would help either President Barack Obama or his challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
The initiatives are worthy of our consideration nonetheless. On this Labor Day, it would be useful to reflect on these upcoming ballot measures, and whether they signal any sort of trend, a possible assault on the rights and power of American workers.
- Teachers union successfully refers governor’s plan for teacher merit pay to public vote (rapidcityjournal.com)
- South Dakota panel reviews county’s ballot-counting error (rapidcityjournal.com)
- Energy, Home Health Care Proposals OK’d For Ballot (detroit.cbslocal.com)
- Steve Gunn: Health care worker ballot proposal self-serving move by the union (mlive.com)
- SD merit-pay plan for teachers goes to public vote (sfgate.com)
About dcpetterson (186 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson