The Overton Window of Political Possibility

The Overton Window // A Case Study

The Overton Window of Political Possibility is a model to explain how changes in public policy occur. When evaluating the options within any specific public policy issue, only a relatively narrow window of options will be considered politically acceptable by politicians. The window of acceptable policies is not primarily defined by the politician’s preference, but by what he or she can support without jeopardizing re-election. As society embraces new ideas, the Overton Window shifts to include additional public policy options that were previously deemed unacceptable.  

The passage of Michigan’s right-to-work law in 2012 represents a significant shift in the Overton Window as it relates to labor policy. In addition to this achievement, many other reforms have occurred over the last several decades. A key one that the Mackinac Center has advocated for over the years is a worker’s right to his or her own money and how it is spent. 

2012: Passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, Public Act 53 prohibits public school districts from using public resources to collect union dues from public school employees’ paychecks. This measure removes the government from collecting income for a private organization and allows unions to approach workers directly for payment of dues. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit later ruled that the law is constitutional. 
Public Act 53 also required unions that represent public employees to annually file an independent audit of collective bargaining expenditures with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. 

2012: The Legislature prohibited the stealth unionization of independent contractors by clarifying that persons whose private compensation comes in part from a government subsidy are not public employees for purposes of collective bargaining. This issue was brought to light by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, which represented home health care workers and day care providers who had been unionized. 

1994: The Michigan Legislature amended campaign finance laws in order to safeguard the free speech rights of unionized workers. The law required unions to obtain a worker’s affirmative consent before deducting money from the worker’s paycheck for political purposes. 

1986: Teachers fired for failure to pay agency fees could not collect unemployment insurance benefits, according to the Michigan Supreme Court. 

1973: In response to a Michigan Supreme Court case, the Legislature amended the Public Employment Relations Act to allow for agency shop agreements, meaning that a unionized public employee could be fired for refusing to pay the union. 

1965: The Michigan Legislature adopted the Public Employment Relations Act, which gave public employees the right to bargain collectively with their employer.