Big Unions Keep Shrinking, Losing in the Midwest

Once the stronghold of union power, the Midwest is now becoming the home of reforms that limit that power.

Unions spent millions trying to remove Scott Walker from the Wisconsin Governor’s office in 2012, but that wasn’t their only expensive failure in the region. In Michigan, national unions spent $23 million trying to force collective bargaining rights into the state’s constitution.

Proposal 2, as it was called, was designed to elevate collective bargaining into a constitutionally protected right which would thereby supersede any and all restrictions on collective bargaining in state law. According to Michigan’s Attorney General the proposition “would have overruled in whole or part 18 sections of Michigan’s constitution and 170 laws” if it had passed.

In addition, union leaders intended to use the success of Proposal 2 as a model for similar changes in other states. Fortunately, Proposal 2 was an abject failure. In a state which has the 5th highest percentage of union members (18.3%) and which voted to re-elect Barack Obama, Proposal 2 was rejected by 58 percent of voters. The failure of Proposal 2 has even led to fresh discussion of making Michigan a right-to-work state.

Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, Governor Walker’s collective bargaining reforms, known as Act 10, have been devastating to public sector union bosses as significant numbers of their members decide to hold onto their once mandatory dues money. The state’s two largest teacher’s unions have lost a third of their members and, as of Saturday, are discussing a merger:

WEAC executive director Dan Burkhalter said the organization hasretained about 65 to 70 percent of members once dues become optional.The dues had been about $300 for the state organization and between $600and $1,000 when adding in local and national dues…

“Our business model has been busted up,” Burkhalter said. “We can’t play on the field we’ve been playing.”

That’s as close to an admission of failure as you’re likely to hear. But it’s not just Wisconsin. Unions are no longer in the driver’s seat throughout the Midwest.