The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 06, 2012

Group takes 1st step toward ripping labor issue from Nov. 6 ballot

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – The first of what will likely be several efforts to kill a ballot initiative designed to change Michigan’s constitution and permanently protect workers’ collective bargaining rights has been initiated.

A business/advocacy group has asked Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to deny the “Protect Our Jobs” ballot proposal from even appearing on the ballot. The group, “Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution,” offered a litany of reasons that Johnson should refuse to place it on the ballot.

“The petition will repeal numerous, but unidentified, existing provisions of the law that may conflict with the petition and will limit the authority of the Michigan Legislature, local government and constitutionally established higher education institutions to regulate employment matters,” wrote Dykema Gossett attorney Gary Gordon, in a June 21 letter on behalf of the group to Johnson requesting the spiking of the ballot proposal.

From early March through late June, the Protect Our Jobs coalition, backed by organized labor across the state, collected 684,286 petition signatures – more than double the number required – to place the proposal on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot. If approved by state voters, the ballot issue would enshrine workers’ collective bargaining rights in the Michigan Constitution. It would head-off any effort to make Michigan a right-to-work state, and overturn the numerous anti-labor laws that have been adopted by the Legislature and prevent them from passage in the future.

“Nearly 700,000 Michigan voters signed the petition in support of protecting the fundamental right to collective bargaining,” responded Protect Our Jobs spokesman Dan Lijana in a statement. “Corporate special interests will stop at nothing to silence the voices of all Michiganders by limiting their right to negotiate for fair wages and benefits. Now they are attempting to end run the democratic process and prevent Michiganders from even voting on the issues. Let Michigan vote.”

Department of State spokesperson Fred Woodhams said via the Gongwer Report that the department is reviewing Gordon’s letter and did not have a timetable on when it would make a decision. Gordon requested a ruling “as soon as possible” so that if denied, the issue could be brought before the courts.

The ballot proposal would add a new section to Article I of the State Constitution, as follows: “The people shall have the rights to organize together to form, join or assist labor organizations, and to bargain collectively with a public or private employer through an exclusive representative of the employees’ choosing, to the fullest extent not preempted by the laws of the United States.”

Another section would change the state Constitution as follows: “No existing or future law of the State or its political subdivisions shall abridge, impair or limit the foregoing rights; provided that the State may prohibit or restrict strikes by employees of the State and its political subdivisions. The legislature’s exercise of its power to enact laws relative to the hours and conditions of employment shall not abridge, impair or limit the right to collectively bargain for wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment that exceed minimum levels established by the legislature.”

The full text of the proposed changes to the state constitution can be found

In his letter to Johnson, attorney Gordon laid out the business community’s legal case against the ballot proposal, and likely includes some of the shotgun strategy they will take if (or more likely, when) this makes its way to the courts.

Gordon said the Protect Our Jobs language would also amend and limit the language of future constitutional provisions. “Moreover,” he wrote, “the petition’s scope will fundamentally change the operation of government as related to labor and employment issues.” He argues that “the sweeping nature of the petition’s impact…is not a proper subject for a ballot proposal.”

He said “electors signing the petition were not advised of the many unidentified laws the petition improperly seeks to repeal. Thus this proposed amendment attempts to weaken important economic reforms that are contributing to the economic turnaround in Michigan through deceptive means.”

The “important economic reforms” referenced by Gordon took the form of a variety of anti-labor bills adopted by the Republican-led Michigan Legislature in the last 18 months. Labor leaders maintain that unions have been whipping posts for Republicans, getting blamed for the state and the nation’s economic ills.

“Without constitutional protection for collective bargaining, workers are at the mercy of politicians who owe their election to CEOs and Wall Street billionaires,” said Teamsters President James Hoffa. “We’ve seen that in the past year, when extremist politicians in Lansing passed one anti-worker bill after another. They cut wages, health care benefits, retirement security and safety protections. They moved bills to weaken teacher unions and to eliminate the rights of teaching assistants to organize.

“Meanwhile, our elected representatives cut $1.8 billion in taxes to the multinationals least in need of tax relief: banks, insurers and oil companies. These corporate giveaways and political attacks on unions do nothing to create good jobs that support a family. What they do is enrich the 1 percent and make it easier to replace our once-strong middle class with non-union, low-wage workers.”