The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 30, 2015

Signature fiasco could deny petition drive

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

Multiple names on prevailing wage repeal petitions ‘an absurdity’

LANSING - An unlikely and unexpected twist to the effort intended to repeal the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1965 was brought to light on Oct. 26, when attorneys for a pro-prevailing wage group announced that their review of repeal petition documents found that "more than 40 percent of the signatures filed are unequivocally invalid."

The result, according to the legal team for union-backed Protect Michigan Jobs, "can lead to no other conclusion but that the entire signature gathering process was, at best, careless and at worst, fraudulent, thereby tainting the entire initiative process in our state." The attorneys requested the state Board of Canvassers deny the certification of the petitions, thus shutting down the entire repeal effort.

Attorneys John D. Pirich and Andrea L. Hansen of the firm of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP filed a related brief with the Board of Canvassers, the state panel that authorizes petitions and their results. The group they represent, Protect Michigan Jobs/Michigan Prevails, is comprised of labor unions, contractor associations and other interested organizations.

Michigan Prevails sponsored a press conference announcing the massive signature fail on Oct. 26. A statement from the group and their attorneys said "the validity rate of the signatures submitted by petitioners is the lowest percentage of any state level filing of an initiative or referendum petition in the history of such filings in Michigan."

Pirich said "this is an absurdity to see that on every other page in the 50,000-plus sheets turned in there is a duplicate signature. When you see the multiple times people signed this petition, it's pretty obvious how this process has gone off the track."

Prevailing wage repeal efforts began in the early summer, when the Associated Builders and Contractors and their group, Protect Michigan Taxpayers, announced their effort to collect at least the required 252,523 valid petition signatures in order to have the repeal question go before the state Legislature. The repeal group, backed by more than $1 million in deep-pocketed backers like the Devos family, hired at least one out-of-state company to hire signature gatherers.

In mid-September, Protect Michigan Taxpayers announced they had collected more than 390,000 signatures, and submitted them to the state Board of Canvassers. Given access to the signature pages, challengers at the news conference said they found fewer than 221,061 of the submitted signatures submitted were valid.

The brief filed with the Board of Canvassers asked for them to deny certification, and further, "investigate what appears to have been widespread and pervasive violations of Michigan Election Law in the signature gathering process for this Petition." The state Board of Canvassers has not made a public statement on the signatures, and is slated to meet next on Nov. 5, but there's no indication what their course of action will be.

Numerous people across Michigan have reported back to their union that they were approached by petition gatherers and given all manner of misinformation, including that the petition was to cut taxes, improve worker training, or even to keep prevailing wage. Campaign finance reports say the pro-repeal group spent $1.1 million for Silver Bullet Inc. of Las Vegas to coordinate the petition signature gathering, and Michigan Prevails said they were collecting $5 per signature.

According to the union-backed petition challengers, here's a sampling of the information they collected:

*After eliminating the approximately 123,000 signers who were not registered to vote, petition challengers found nearly 50,000 duplicate signatures 
  • *Four people signed 10 times
  • *55 people signed 6 times
  • *150 people signed 5 times
  • *588 people signed 4 times
  • *2,684 people who signed 3 times
  • *18,767 people signed 2 times

Chris Fisher, head of Protecting Michigan Taxpayers and president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan, called the petition signature review “a brazen attack on Michigan taxpayers and their rights,” according to The Detroit News.

At the news conference, Michigan Associated General Contractors President Bart Carrigan said eliminating prevailing wage would "cut wages of hard working skilled trades men and women in our state and hurt the Michigan economy, aggravating current worker shortages in the industry and discouraging young people from entering these valuable professions."

Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin said the inability to get sufficient signatures isn't necessarily a surprise.

"Polling shows the vast majority of state voters are opposed to ending these policies that help working man and women and ensure quality, safe construction of public buildings," he said. "I would hope Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Attorney General Bill Schuette would investigate and hold accountable all who have participated in this scheme, from the out-of-state collectors to those managing this devious campaign."

A successful petition effort would lead to the prevailing wage repeal question going before the state Legislature, and if it fails there, to a vote of the people in November 2016. In the event the petition effort is overturned, there is still the strong likelihood that the Michigan Legislature will take up the prevailing wage repeal question. The only difference is, under this scenario, Gov. Rick Snyder would be able to use his veto, and there have been preliminary indications that he does support prevailing wage.