Lansing, Meet Madison

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

Our neighbor to the north and east, Michigan, is about to enter some rough times–and not just because the Detroit Lions cannot win a game. The state legislature votes Tuesday on whether to make Michigan a Right-to-Work state, and the labor unions are planning on storming the Capitol.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Many of the aspects of the fight in Michigan are similar to what happened in Wisconsin when Act 10 was being considered by the legislature.

Michigan is getting bombarded by out-of-state union activists, including protestors from Wisconsin. They’re expecting union protestors from Ohio and elsewhere, too.

The teachers’ unions in Michigan are causing several schools to close so the teachers can go protest rather than educate their students. School district superintendents are closing schools because so many teachers are taking personal days.

Protest organizers in Lansing have made no attempt to hide the similarities with Wisconsin, even holding a special strategy session Monday night, “Turn Lansing into Madison: Strategy Meeting,” at a local church. The Facebook entry by the organizer said the Michiganders could learn a lot from Wisconsin.

Look for a surge in notes from doctors practicing near the state capitol for union members skipping work on Tuesday.

Still, Lansing isn’t Madison, and some of the charm of the Madison protests will be missing. For example, I doubt that Lansing has a protestor dressed head to foot in fuzzy stuffed animals that likes to hug people.

It’s also harder to turn Michigan into a fist symbol, especially with that annoying Upper Peninsula screwing up the concept. Not that some aren’t trying.

But what should get the attention of Wisconsinites is how serious the Capitol Police are about dealing with the protestors. When eight protestors attempted to storm the Senate floor, they were treated to a dose of pepper spray. Nobody asked them what they wanted on their pizza before asking them “pretty please” to leave.

When the situation became uncontrollable in the Capitol, Michigan police shut off access to the building. The legislature is already being sued for an alleged violation of the Open Meetings Law as a result, even though reporters and members of the public were in attendance while the legislature met. One judge has already agreed the police acted prudently even as he asked that the law enforcement find some way to keep the Capitol open on Tuesday.

Michigan must be special, indeed. During the protests, passage of Act 10, and all through the recalls, President Barack Obama did not set foot in Wisconsin. Obama brought his campaign to raise taxes to Redford, MI, taking the opportunity to claim the Right to Work legislation was more about politics than economics.

The stakes are different, too. Michigan is considering becoming a Right to Work state, meaning that membership in a union cannot be a requirement for employment. But Michigan is not moving to change collective bargaining with the public employee unions, which is what happened in Wisconsin.

Arguably, it was the unions themselves that encouraged the legislature to act. They attempted via a ballot initiative to enshrine closed union shops in the state constitution. After Governor Rick Snyder campaigned against it, the ballot measure failed by 15 points. Republicans in the legislature took that as a sign that the public would support passage of Right to Work legislation.

The protestors may be trying to learn from Madison, but the Republicans in Lansing are learning from other states, too. Because the bill has a million dollar financial component, the law cannot be overturned by a ballot initiative, like what happened in Ohio.

Republicans in Michigan also exempted police and firefighter unions from the bill, keeping those occupations subject to the closed shop. In Ohio not exempting police and firefighters from the labor reforms helped galvanize public opposition and fueled the ballot initiative that overturned the law. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker kept police and firefighters out of the Act 10 reforms, and the opponents of Act 10 found themselves tripping rhetorically over the decision to not include those two public sector employee categories.

The Democrats are also unable to delay matters by leaving the state. Unlike in Wisconsin, a simple majority is all that is needed for the legislative bodies to meet and vote.

However, the vote on Tuesday (or possibly Wednesday) may not be the final word on the issue. In addition to a fight in the courts, state legislators could be the targets of union-run recall efforts. Even if recall efforts don’t move forward, Steve Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association, told Alan Colmes on Fox News Radio, “Looking at the next two years, they will not have a moment’s peace.”

“When the governor says this is divisive, he does not know the meaning of the word,” Cook said.

Wisconsinites know all too well what labor unions mean when they say something is “divisive” and that legislators will not have “a moment’s peace.”

When the protestors chant, “the whole world is watching,” as they surely will, Wisconsinites will be wondering if they’re watching a rerun.