Several Collective Bargaining, Public Sector Union Issues at Stake in State Races, Referendums
November 2, 2012
By Doug Hass
While voters may focus on the presidential race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, state ballot initiatives and elections could do almost as much as the presidential race to change the labor law environment this Tuesday. While the winner of the presidential election will have to wait for National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) members’ terms to expire to shift that agency’s composition, business groups and unions have been pouring money into important state races that could have more immediate and far-reaching effects.
The highest profile issue on state ballots this year is Michigan’s Proposal 2, a union-sponsored initiative that would constitutionally guarantee collective bargaining rights for both public and private employees in Michigan. More importantly, the first-of-its-kind amendment would invalidate any existing state laws that “abridge, impair, or limit” those rights. The measure would prevent the Michigan legislature from enacting collective bargaining laws like those passed in Wisconsin and Indiana, and could hinder state and local lawmakers who want greater control over their personnel-heavy budgets. Michigan voters will also consider whether to overturn the state’s emergency manager law, Public Act 4. Under the Act, emergency managers, who are appointed by the governor to take over financially distressed local municipalities and school districts, can modify or terminate contracts, including collective bargaining agreements.
In Illinois, voters will consider the Public Pension Amendment as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment. The Amendment would limit the ability of state government entities to increase pension benefits for employees. If passed, the measure would require three-fifths approval by the appropriate governing body—the General Assembly, a city council, a school district, or a pension/retirement system, for example—before the entity could increase the pension benefits of their employees.
California voters will consider Proposition 32, a measure that would prevent unions and employers from deducting money from employees’ paychecks for political contributions, and ban both corporate and union contributions to state and local candidates. California voters have twice rejected similar measures, in 2005 and 1998. The proposed measure would ban any contract that requires an employee to pay union fees. Additionally, it would ban agreements between business and unions that would make union fees a condition of employment.
Alabama voters will have a chance to approve a state constitutional amendment that declares the secret ballot is fundamental to democracy. Amendment 7 would “provide that the right of individuals to vote for public office, public votes on referenda or votes of employee representation” should be by secret vote, according to the wording on the November ballot. The measure is similar to the secret-ballot law passed by Arizona earlier this year. The NLRB unsuccessfully challenged Arizona’s law on the ground that it blocked alternate routes to unionization permitted under federal law. The judge in that case, however, noted that his opinion “should not foreclose future challenges as the law begins being applied by the state,” meaning that the NLRB could rekindle challenges to these laws again in the months ahead.
In South Dakota, voters will confront Referred Law 16 in a veto referendum. The measure would block a bill passed this year, and supported by the Governor, that would give bonuses to high performing teachers, eliminate tenure after 2016, and provide scholarships to potential candidates for teaching jobs in critical need subjects. The South Dakota Education Association opposed the bill and organized the veto referendum effort.
Idaho teachers unions succeeded in placing three measures on the November ballot. The first would repeal a law limiting previously negotiated union contracts. Another would repeal a law recently passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that ties teacher pay to student test scores. The third measure would repeal a law changing school funding formulas and requiring schools to provide computers and online courses.
State legislative and gubernatorial elections also could shift the balance of power between management and labor on Tuesday. In Maine, out-of-state business and union political action committees have spent $326,000 alone in the race between incumbent Republican Nichi Farnham and Democrat Geoffrey Gratwick in the hopes of securing a majority in the currently narrowly Republican-majority Maine Senate. In Minnesota, unions hope to overturn Republican majorities in both houses to support Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and avoid spending cuts that would affect public sector union members in the state.
In Iowa, Democrats hold a one-vote majority in the Senate. Business groups hope to flip the majority to Republicans to win passage of a measure that would ban public employee unions from collecting dues through automatic paycheck deductions.
In New Hampshire, the GOP-led legislature passed right-to-work legislation last year, but could not override Democratic Governor John Lynch’s veto. Lynch is not seeking another term, so the fate of the right-to-work legislation lies in the outcome of the gubernatorial race between GOP candidate Ovide Lamontagne (who supports the law) and Democrat Maggie Hassan (who would veto it).
We will provide an update after the election on these measures, as well as other important elections at the state and federal level and their impact on employers nationwide.