Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, as many know, recently signed into law legislation making Michigan the nation’s 24th “right-to-work” state. But a development which received far less ink and airtime is the fact that, painfully early on Dec. 14, the Michigan Legislature — about 48 hours after “right-to-work” became law — approved legislation to push Michigan right back into basically the same emergency-manager (EM) system that the voters had just finished repealing through their approval of Proposition 1 on Nov. 6, 2012.
And since EM laws operate in several states, Michigan’s actions could deeply affect populist efforts elsewhere to de-fang or dissolve the EM system that many see as the road to local tyranny through a state-appointed autocrat whose EM task is slickly portrayed as a heroic rescue mission for cash-strapped localities. This is not to say that every EM’s actions have always been bad. Some localities, vexed by corruption and/or mismanagement, did need help. But the price paid for such tight-fisted management is uncomfortably high. And unsavory tactics have surfaced.
Influential West Michigan activist Rev. Ed Pinkney, who helped get Prop. 1 on the ballot, was asked by this writer whether he felt the right-to-work law’s passage was a subtle form of retaliation against voters for overturning the EM law which “the good governor,” a self-described “venture capitalist,” championed but unions opposed.
“Absolutely,” replied Pinkney, who lives in the EM-run city of Benton Harbor.
Meanwhile, more and more people are realizing that “right-to-work” provides an “out” for US employers to pay lower wages to bring the domestic job market on par with lower-paying foreign locales. Surely, unions do have some drawbacks, such as teachers’ unions and other unions that protect mediocre educators and other public workers, thereby avoiding the important matter of individual merit, instead of just group membership, on the job. But unions, overall, are a good thing, as they also uphold the wages and benefits needed to give the average worker stability and a shot at upward mobility while forging a stronger middle class.
The emergency manager law that Michigan voters repealed as Public Act 4 was broadly disliked specifically because, under it, a state-appointed “EM” could not only dissolve the authority of city councils, school boards and other elected bodies; the EM also could become the local viceroy with broadsword power to dissolve or rewrite union contracts. In essence, EMs, if left unfettered, can establish a fiefdom that suppresses or overturns the basic democratic structure which should include the taxpaying people in the governmental process.
After PA 4’s repeal, Michigan temporarily reverted to an old 1990 EM law. Yet, voters were still breathing sighs of relief from PA 4’s defeat when their joy was abruptly thwarted by their alleged public servants giving unionism a double whammy through a brand-new EM “reform” measure, not the new just “right-to-work” designation.
That new EM law has some features that are more acceptable than PA 4’s terms, such as giving troubled cities a choice of getting an emergency manager, or choosing other options such as Chapter 9 bankruptcy, or mediation. But, as Rev. Pinkney said of the new EM law, “I understand you can’t vote it down.”
Indeed, if the new EM law turns out to be bad for the public, the voters cannot repeal it because the new law carries a budget appropriation enabling the state to pay for any EMs assigned to school districts and cities — rather than forcing the locality to pick up the EM tab. That may sound like an acceptable trade off, but because the new law upholds at least some of an EM’s powers to void or rewrite union contracts, a key corporate tool was kept in place to suppress unionism, and the new law can be amended to broaden EM powers over time while being shielded from a voter veto, essentially forever.
Thus, the tables were turned so the kind of voter rebellion that happened against EMs last November evidently can never happen again.
Mark Anderson is a veteran journalist who divides his time between Texas and Michigan. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2013
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