The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 23, 2012

Skies darken for Michigan unions after Election Day

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING – On a statewide level, there were victories for candidates and proposals by organized labor in the Nov. 6 general election. But there weren’t enough wins to change the status quo – and that’s not a good thing for Michigan’s union members.

The biggest loser for labor on the Nov. 6 ballot was Proposal 2 – the ballot issue that would have enshrined collective bargaining rights into the state constitution. “No victory for social justice is easy to achieve,” said Karla Swift, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. The measure lost 58 percent to 42 percent.

She added in a post-election email, “Workers came together and organized like we have never seen before in Michigan.”

Swift said that the Protect Working Families coalition backing Prop 2 had 33 organizations representing over 1 million residents and the campaign conducted over 5.2 million “voter contact touches.”

“The proposal was defeated even though Mr. Obama won the state, 54 to 46 percent, attracting 2.5 million votes,” said a New York Times article, which said it was an “embarrassing loss” for labor.  “Proposal 2 garnered 600,000 fewer votes, indicating that many Democrats turned against labor on this issue. But they (unions) appear to have misjudged the level of public support for entrenching union rights in the state Constitution, even in a state that is home to influential unions like the United Auto Workers.”

Now, labor’s attention will turn to the Republican-dominated Michigan Legislature, which is widely expected to use Proposal 2’s loss as a mandate to adopt a statewide right-to-work law. Passage of Proposal 2 would have prevented that. And Republican lawmakers may adopt a right-to-work law before the end of the year.

Following are some of the results of the Nov. 6 balloting from organized labor’s perspective:

The Michigan House: Regaining a Democratic majority and control of the state House would have stopped some of the 80-plus anti-worker, anti-union laws that have been proposed and adopted over the last two years by the Republican-dominated House and Senate.

There were no elections in the Republican-dominated Senate this year, so the only hope for Dems and labor was to flip the House of Representatives. Didn’t happen, although Democrats made gains. Going into the election, Republicans held a 64-46 advantage in the 110-member chamber. After the election, the GOP’s advantage dropped to 59-51.

Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), the Democratic Party chairman, said he and his colleagues “are excited to welcome many new colleagues to the House and we’re eager to get to work on behalf of our state.”

As a result of the Nov. 6 election, state Republicans lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder will be free to continue to adopt laws in Michigan without input from Democrats.

Michigan Supreme Court: The court is supposed to be nonpartisan, but since the political parties pick the nominees, it really isn’t.

Republican Supreme Court justices went into the election holding a 4-3 advantage, and that GOP advantage stayed the same afterward.

Sitting GOP justices Brian Zahra and Stephen Markman were both placed back on the bench by voters. Democrat Bridget McCormack won one of the three seats on the ballot, staving off a potential Republican sweep that would have given the GOP a commanding 5-2 majority. A law professor, McCormick is the first non-judge to be elected to the state high court since 1986.

U.S. senator from Michigan: Democrat Debbie Stabenow was elected to her third six-year term on Election Day, defeating Republican challenger Pete Hoekstra 58-39 percent.

“We are coming back in Michigan,” said Stabenow, 62, after her win was announced. “If we focus on out-innovating the competition, we will move Michigan forward… We’re ready to go back to work. Michigan will be in the driver’s seat.”

Stabenow’s win contributed to an increased Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate. Dems had a 52-48 majority going into the election, and that margin increased to 53-47.

Republicans will continue to control the U.S. House of Representatives.

Boards of governors for Michigan State, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University: All building-trades endorsed candidates – who were all Democrats – were winners. That’s no small thing to have friends in office when it comes time for governors to award bids on campus construction projects.

Ballot proposals: To varying degrees, organized labor had a stake in all the statewide proposals to amend the state Constitution:

Proposal 1: The “No” vote won, which repeals a tougher emergency financial manager law adopted by state Republicans. Under the law that was repealed, financial managers could abrogate union contracts at will. The state law now defaults to an older, weaker EFM law.

Proposal 2: Organized labor pushed, and pushed hard to pass this proposal, but it was handily defeated. A win would have prevented scores of anti-labor bills from being passed, while overturning those that have been adopted in the last two years. Now, the power of GOP lawmakers to adopt more anti-labor bills is unchecked in Lansing.

Proposal 3: Voters easily rejected the so-called 25×25 energy proposal, which would have locked our state into a path requiring utilities to generate 25 percent of their power by renewable sources by 2025. State utilities are currently operating under a mandate to create 10 percent of their power by 2015. No state in the country has a renewable standard locked into its constitution.

The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council supported a “no” vote on this proposal.

“The 25/25 standard would have taken away flexibility of our partners in the utility industry to operate their baseload plants, and that could have severely affected future upgrades at those plants, and our members’ ability to service them,” said MBCTC Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin. “This was a victory for us on Election Day.”

Proposal 4: This measure was defeated 60-40 percent. It would have allowed unionization for home health care workers.

Proposal 5: Michigan voters declined to make it more difficult for state legislators to raise taxes, voting down this proposal. Under this proposal, two-thirds of state lawmakers in both the House and Senate would have had to vote in favor of a new state tax, expanding the base of taxation or increasing a tax rate. The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council recommended a “No” vote, because it’s already nearly impossible to get lawmakers to vote to increase the gasoline tax to gain more money for road repairs.

Proposal 6: This was dubbed the “let the people decide” ballot proposition – whether the people should be able to decide if a new bridge should be constructed between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Michigan voters, by a 61-39 percent margin, decided that the people really didn’t need to have a say in the matter.

That vote, apparently, takes away another obstacle to building a new international bridge crossing the Detroit River. Billionaire Matty Moroun sponsored an ad campaign promoting Proposal 6, whose passage may have thrown a wrench into an agreement by Gov. Rick Snyder and the Canadian government, which would have Canada pay for 100 percent of the cost of the new bridge, while being repaid through bridge tolls.

Now that that tactic didn’t work, Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge and has a vested interest in not having any competition, is sure to start filing lawsuits to further delay construction.