Michigan’s right-to-work reform was very different than Walker’s reforms in Wisconsin. That’s states reforms covered the public sector. While it also eliminated mandatory union dues, it also eliminated collective bargaining for benefits, retaining it for wages. Michigan’s reforms only dealt with the issue of mandatory dues, but covered both public and private sector unions. Both reforms, though, had one key thing in common; they exempted police and firefighters from the laws. In OH, where the unions successfully beat-back reform, police and firefighters were not exempt. It was a critical difference.
In the wake of the Wisconsin reforms, OH Gov. John Kasich pushed through the legislature a similar package of public sector union reform. The unions threw their typical temper tantrum, but the legislature enacted the measures. The unions then successfully petitioned to place the law, known as SB 5, on the ballot as a voter referendum. The vote took place in November 2011, on off-off-year election, which gives an edge to a motivated block of voters. After spending tens of millions, the unions managed to defeat the reforms.
Police and firefighters were very prominent in the union campaign against the reforms. They were front-and-center at all the union rallies and had a lion’s share of the speaking slots. They were also prominently featured in the union’s campaign advertising. It wouldn’t be surprising if some voters thought the reforms only impacted police and firefighters.
To the public, police and firefighters are in a different class from DMV clerks or state bureaucrats. They provide critical defense of our homes, property and, even, lives. Voters are going to be very reluctant to endorse any reform that, even by the most tenuous string of circumstances, leads to fewer or angry and dissatisfied police and firefighters.
Obviously, there are arguments to include police and firefighters in these reforms. Politically, though, its a bridge too far.
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