Social Question

iamthemob's avatar

Does the new collective bargaining revision law in Michigan represent the beginning of the end of our civil rights?

Asked by iamthemob (17147points) March 17th, 2011

An inflammatory phrasing, I know…however, reports here and here claim that new law expected to be signed by the governor today allow for now not only future limitations of bargaining rights, but provides the government the unilateral right to terminate provisions of a CBA under certain circumstances – essentially, to break the contract without recourse.

The full text can be found here and the relevant portions are below:

(6) A public school employer’s collective bargaining duty under this act and a collective bargaining agreement entered into by a public school employer under this act are subject to all of the following:

(a) Any effect on collective bargaining and any modification of a collective bargaining agreement occurring under section 1280c of the revised school code, 1976 PA 451, MCL 380.1280c.

(b) For a public school in which the superintendent of public instruction implements 1 of the 4 school intervention models described in section 1280c of the revised school code, 1976 PA 451, MCL 380.1280c, if the school intervention model that is implemented affects collective bargaining or requires modification of a collective bargaining agreement, any effect on collective bargaining and any modification of a collective bargaining agreement under that school intervention model.

(7) Each collective bargaining agreement entered into between a public employer and public employees under this act after the effective date of the amendatory act that added this subsection shall include a provision that allows an emergency manager appointed under the local government and school district fiscal accountability act to reject, modify, or terminate the collective bargaining agreement as provided in the local government and school district fiscal accountability act. Provisions required by this subsection are prohibited subjects of bargaining under this act.

(8) Collective bargaining agreements under this act may be rejected, modified, or terminated pursuant to the local government and school district fiscal accountability act. This act does not confer a right to bargain that would infringe on the exercise of powers under the local government and school district fiscal accountability act.

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52 Answers

marinelife's avatar

No, it doesn’t. I don’t even think it will withstand court challenges.

12Oaks's avatar

This is why, when possible, I never opt for union made products or services. I support the worker, so I prefer independents.

iamthemob's avatar

@12Oaks – What do you mean? How is this a reason to do that?

12Oaks's avatar

Any reason is a good reason to not support unions. Hopefully, very soon, they will all be a thing of the past.

YoBob's avatar

Not at all. The last time I checked we still had the right to free speech and the right to vote. Further, if our government should ever stomp on those two fundamental capabilities, we also have the right to keep and bear arms (not that I think we are anywhere close to needing to exercise that particular capability).

Sounds to me like the good folks of Michigan need to express their opinions during the next election cycle. (It is also important to note that it is entirely possible that a majority of the good folks of Michigan support the reduction of collective bargaining rights in their state, which is their prerogative.)

syz's avatar

I’m probably going to catch a lot of flack for this, but I’m not a fan of unions. Yes, historically, they where vital in developing worker’s right, safety standards, reasonable working conditions, and any number of important changes. And in general, I support the right of groups banding together to gain leverage. But mostly what I see from modern day union activities is power, bureaucracy, intimidation, politics, graft, and a work force that in some ways has made itself bloated and no longer competitive.

I’ve always had the option of walking away and finding another job if I don’t like something about my current one. I guess that’s reinforced my belief in the power of the open market. I realize that that doesn’t work for everyone, but I do think that many unions have too much power. And I don’t think that losing bargaining rights in the midst of the “Great Recession” means the end of civil rights. (I think Bush’s Patriot Act was/is much more of a proven threat.)

iamthemob's avatar

@12Oaks – wow. So…workers negotiate for pay, get a contract, and the government gets to break that contract at it’s own discretion and that’s a good reason?

Did you read through the details?

@YoBob – Sure, but the above isn’t necessarily about the CB rights – it says that the government can terminate the contract if it wants to. That’s a contract between it and the employees at that point – negotiated through unions, yes, but still.

It renders the concept of a contract null and void, in essence.

YoBob's avatar

@iamthemob I agree it is an ugly precedent. However, as stated, this is something that our democratic mechanism is designed to address (or ignore depending on prevailing public opinion).

I think it a bit of a stretch to call this the beginning of the end of our civil rights,

WestRiverrat's avatar

Despite what union leadership claims, collective bargaining and union membership are not civil rights.

This will have no impact on civil rights.

iamthemob's avatar

@YoBob – I agree – but I do wonder if the current anti-Union sentiment will set the precedent regardless of the questionable nature of it.

iamthemob's avatar

@WestRiverrat – Again, this isn’t about the CB rights. This is about an ability to terminate a contract that exists between the government and the employees unilaterally.

That’s the government being able to dump obligations they agreed to, and promises made to their employees, and change them without regard.

12Oaks's avatar

WHY not? Unions will picket construction sites, stores, and other places where independents underbid them, trying to break that contract. I love crossing picket lines, especially those that want more taxpayer money given to Them. Hopefully this will be the end of public sector unions.

WestRiverrat's avatar

There is no right in this country to have a job. Most private sector jobs now have an ‘at will’ option in the contract, which gives the employer the right to terminate unilaterally.

I don’t have a problem with government employees getting the same treatment.

iamthemob's avatar

@12Oaks – The bill would apply whether or not there was a public union as we think of one today.

@WestRiverrat – This isn’t comparable to “at will” employment. “At will” governs rules which apply when an employee is not provided a contract. Independent contractors, for instance, are not “at will” as they have a contract for a term of years, specific job, etc. Should either side violate the contract, the affected party can sue.

Professional employees often work under contracts, and therefore may be terminated for cause only, or have a pay structure, etc.

This is not about “at will” but rather an employer who contracts with an employee, and the contract thereafter governs. Allowing this is essentially permitting the government to renege on contracts that it makes, if it deems necessary. This could quickly be applied to other private contracts. And, the government would protect itself by its own laws.

Why should it be okay for only these employees, and not any contract?

Qingu's avatar

I don’t really think this is a civil rights issue. My understanding of that term is that it has to do with individuals’ rights to participate in government and receive equal treatment, i.e. not having second class citizens (like the blacks were).

I could see the argument that there’s some intersection, but I wouldn’t frame it like this.

iamthemob's avatar

@Qingu – The right to equal treatment under contracts should not be considered a civil right?

filmfann's avatar

I have been a member of my Union for 33 years. It disturbs me greatly to see the Republican Governors and Legislators in Wisconsin and Michigan doing this.
Bust the deal, and face the wheel!

Qingu's avatar

Well, okay. I guess that makes sense, actually.

iamthemob's avatar

@Qingu – Part of my problem is that so many responses are in favor of this – and I think so much of this is a result of the anti-union hysteria.

YoBob's avatar

Well @iamthemob, that’s one of the features of democracy that we all have to deal with. Sometimes the majority opinion does not agree with our own.

iamthemob's avatar

@YoBob – True. But when the majority opinion is pushed by violent hysteria, and ends up allowing the government to move against our rights generally, we work against our rights.

YoBob's avatar

Our rights are protected by a constitution. Should the legislative body pass laws that run counter to a constitutional charter then the checks and balances offered by the judicial system can come into play to declare such legislation unconstitutional, null and void.

As stated above, there is also the additional built in check and balance due to the fact that our officials are elected, and thus must answer for their actions in each election cycle.

The only hysteria I am seeing here is from those who are equating recent changes in Michigan law as some sort of apocalyptic event that foreshadows the downfall of civil rights in general.

iamthemob's avatar

@YoBob – only if it’s challenged.

Jaxk's avatar

I am not in favor of being able to break a contract. But let’s be real and realize that there are many laws that govern contracts, many of which can invalidate them. The problem seems to be that public unions have gotten out of control. Politicians are searching for some way to get the process under control without eliminating public unions altogether. Frankly the simplest and best solution would be to just make public unions illegal. The whole idea of the public negotiating with the union through an official elected by the public is fraught with conflict of interest and ripe for manipulation.

Either way this doesn’t rise to the level a civil rights crisis. It is merely one piece of legislation governing specific contracts. Not really that abnormal.

iamthemob's avatar

@Jaxk – Please point out a law that allows one party to unilaterally terminate a contract without recourse to the other party based on the discretion of the terminating party when the contract is legal and valid.

Cruiser's avatar

I think this move simply represents a very necessary move by a state legislature attempting to solve very serious financial problems they are facing. Shit flows down hill and thanks to this recession that has gone on much longer than it ever should have thanks to our lack luster response by the Feds. Now cities and states are starving to death because of unprecedented reductions in tax revenues and they simply cannot borrow or deficit spend any longer and have to resort to some very unpopular strategies to keep the wheel turning in essential and very important state programs like schools and education!

Clearly if they don’t cut costs and overhead they will have to let schools go under and that IMO is much more unacceptable than breaking union contracts. It’s crunch time folks and states are doing what they have to with their uber over-stressed budgets they have to operate with. Or perhaps a ton of teachers would rather collect unemployment checks and where the hell would you put all the displaced kids??

When the economy strengthens and money becomes flush again, unions can go back to the bargaining table to re-negotiate primo deal contracts with their governments and rest assured they will.

Jaxk's avatar

The Michigan Law. Otherwise you could look to the mortgage refinance (principle and interest) Obama has recently implemented. The GM bailout that shortchanged the bond holders for the benefit of the unions. Most bankruptcy laws.

I’m not necessarily in favor of this law, but can’t see a national crisis here either. How would you insure that public unions don’t run roughshod over the public? Or you think that the current state of affairs is appropriate?

Qingu's avatar

Um, refininancing and bailouts are not remotely the same as unilaterally terminating contracts…

Jaxk's avatar


They are when the government is unilaterally changing contracts.

Qingu's avatar

As a third party.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

No. Once a Democratic majority takes over in the state, the law will be repealed, presuming it survives the courts. These efforts have proven to be an overreach by Republicans and it will likely lead to their ouster in the next election cycle.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@Qingu If you owned stock or bonds from GM before the bailout, your interest in them was unilaterally nullified by the Obama administration. Unless you were in the select group(UAW) that got an exemption.

How is that not the government unilaterally changing a contract?

Qingu's avatar

Okay, it is; I should have specified (and this is what this thread is talking about) one party of a contract unilaterally terminating that contract.

It’s not unheard of for the government to mediate and change contracts between two other parties (this is how bankruptcy works).

Also, considering that GM was tanking before the bailout and is much better off now, I don’t really see how there’s cause to complain about that

iamthemob's avatar


Let’s also note – bonds are not contracts. I’m not saying that this was a fine example of democracy because of that…but the valuation and sale of a company in bankruptcy is very different as it is dealing with creditor/debtor rights and is regulated by a specific court system. Therefore, there is at least a second branch oversight of everything.

ETpro's avatar

Yes if we let it stand and let the Republican packed Supreme Court AKA Corporatocracy Court rubber stamp it. Private sector unions will be the next target. Then minimum wage laws, workplace safety, anything that limits profits for global corporations.

The Michigan proposals are particularly frightening, because they include a provision allowing the governor almost dictatorial power to declare any city, town or school district in a financial crisis. The governor, by the way, can create the crisis by deliberately tweaking state revenue sharing.

Once the crisis declaration is made, the governor can appoint an Executive to step in and take over the management of the entity. The Executive may fire the elected officials and rule by fiat in their place. Corporations can be appointed as Executive Managers. Assets of the city or town can be sold on no-bid contracts. The city or town can be dechartered. This is pure Fascism. Mussolini would have been so proud of the Republican Party of today.

WestRiverrat's avatar

A bond is a contract, just like the loan you get to buy a new car is a contract. A bond is a promise to pay, and unless you go through bankruptcy they are supposed to be legally binding. GM did not go through bankruptcy, instead they restuctured under the direction of the federal government.

iamthemob's avatar

Bonds are a debt investment in which an investor loans money to an entity (corporate or governmental) that borrows the funds for a defined period of time at a fixed interest rate. Bonds are used by companies, municipalities, states and U.S. and foreign governments to finance a variety of projects and activities.

Bonds are commonly referred to as fixed-income securities and are one of the three main asset classes, along with stocks and cash equivalents.

That’s a far, far cry from a contract. Stock ownership is not a contract – bonds are more akin to property rather than contract rights.

The reorganization of GM and Chrysler was done under a 363 Bankruptcy Sale – It is a sale of assets in a bankruptcy case, generally in a Chapter 11 reorganization, so named because of the section of the Bankruptcy Code dealing with the procedure. A discrete asset or assets, such as a particular piece of equipment or parcel of real estate, may be sold pursuant to 11 USC §363, or, especially recently, several bankruptcy courts will authorize a sale including all, or substantially all, of the bankrupt company’s asset

Ron_C's avatar

This is just part of the plan. There will be more corporate control of state and federal government, less organized opposition to the conservative agenda because unions are weakened and destroyed, and a better control of the electorate because all of their information will come from the Legal, Political, and Media cabal that rules by fear and intimidation. The future is a permanent conservative republican majority, and diminished human rights, work place rights, and eventually a complete loss of the middle class. Welcome back to the 19th century.

ETpro's avatar

@Ron_C I know that’s the future the Republicans have planned for us, but I think this fight has awakened the sleeping giant and they are going to get the beating of their lives for it. Republicans in Ohio tried union busting in 1958 and the result was they were swept out of the governor’s office, the two houses of the legislature and all elected statewide offices except for Attorney General.

But if we all just forget about it next week and American Idol or the NFL season becomes the only concern of the public, we probably deserve whatever we get.

Ron_C's avatar

@ETpro man, I hope you’re right! Unfortunately, I just spent three weeks with doubters that think that unions are useless and that there is no way to fight the “bought and paid for government representatives”.

ETpro's avatar

@Ron_C German apathy didn’t work out so well. This is a direct move toward fascism and if we don’t stop it, it will ned in just as ugly a way because the right-wing base are authoritarian followers, and they are hungry for a fearless leader to show them the way to the promised land.

Ron_C's avatar

@ETpro It is easy to see Glenn Beck as the fuhrer of America.

iamthemob's avatar

Can we leave the Nazi comparisons to those who have no real argument? ;-)

Ron_C's avatar

@iamthemob It seems to be a new trend these days, steering people away from Nazi references. Could it be people are sensitive to this because the trend really is towards authoritarian forms of government? Granted, things like union busting and attempts to limit voting rights are a little more subtle than gangs running around in brown shirts but the result is the same. Instead of demonizing an ethnic group, the new ultra right (see I didn’t say Nazi) is going after all immigrants and what is left of the middle class. The new fascist is a “pay to play” movement, the poor need not apply.

iamthemob's avatar

Godwin’s Law is my new favorite thing.

Jaxk's avatar

“Can we leave the Nazi comparisons to those who have no real argument? ;-)”

Apparently, we’ve already done that.

iamthemob's avatar


Thank you for taking my attempt to request a return to civility in the debate as an opportunity to twist it into a jab.

Ron_C's avatar

I know that the remarks were aimed a me but, in truth, I was not referring to Nazism, just to authoritarian forms of government, maybe I should have said Stalinist government because the ultimate result of the neo-conservative push against unions and voters is to make them disappear. Of course Stalin did it in the dead of night, does marginalizing people and groups in broad daylight make the result any more legitimate?

Jaxk's avatar


I consciously decided not to remark when I first read your comment. It was only after @Ron_C decided to continue in that vein, that I pointed out the obvious. If you want to make rules, address the offender rather than the person pointing out the offense.

wilma's avatar

@iamthemob you said “Part of my problem is that so many responses are in favor of this – and I think so much of this is a result of the anti-union hysteria.”
and “But when the majority opinion is pushed by violent hysteria, and ends up allowing the government to move against our rights generally, we work against our rights.”

So far the only “Hysteria” that I have been seeing in Michigan is from the pro-union protesters at the capitol.
Michigan is between a rock and a hard place. We were in a deep recession before most of the rest of the country. Right now were are just trying to hang on.

ETpro's avatar

@iamthemob & @Jaxk With all due respect to the brilliance of Godwin’s Law, there is such a thing as fascism and the Nazis were neither the first nor the only government to adopt it as a model of authoritarian rule. You can read what fascism means here.

When I see forces working to move the USA toward fascism, I am going to call a spade a spade. Those who are pushing for fascism think nothing of calling all union members thugs. All teachers and garbage collectors and state college professors and janitors are thugs? They love demonization. Need I provide a list of links to right-wing sites demonizing immigrants, Democrats, liberals, blacks, and immigrants?

To those who adopt the tactics of fascists and push for the corporatism that marks fascism, I will show no pity in the rhetoric I use to oppose their ideology.

Ron_C's avatar

@ETpro and @Jaxk I think Godwin’s Law is just a clever rhetorical device to further limit speech in the U.S. We have so many phrases and descriptions that it is becoming difficult to speak English in a meaningful and concise manner. Like Etpro says, sometime you just have to call a spade a spade.

Law made to limit democracy are definitely pushing us into an authoritarian government. If you notice, most amendments (except Prohibition) were written to enhance freedoms. This new push to limit freedom to Gay people, unions, non-christians, and making classes of people no longer under the protection of the law is very similar to the early 20th century and the rise of dictatorial governments, fascists, if you will.

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