LANSING – And the battle is joined.
Although few Michiganians – and Michigan media outlets – are paying much notice this summer, the corporate fight against the Protect Our Jobs initiative is under way. It has started online with the start of inexpensive websites, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, and undoubtedly will progress to the Nov. 4 election with a full-blown media campaign that will see multiple millions of dollars spent to defeat the pro-worker ballot proposal.
“We didn’t want this fight,” said Michigan Chamber of Commerce President Richard Studley to The Detroit News on July 6. “But we’ll fight back hard and we’ll play to win.”
Last month, Protect Our Jobs (the group’s name has morphed into a more polling-friendly “Protect Working Families) volunteers turned in more than double the 322,000 signatures needed to put the pro-labor issue on the ballot. The ballot question would change the state Constitution, enshrining collective bargaining rights and putting to an end some 90-plus anti-worker legislative initiatives that have been introduced or adopted in the Republican-led state Legislature.
Business groups have vowed a fierce pushback, but labor and the backers of the petition won the first round. A business-backed group called Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution asked the Michigan Secretary of State to nullify the petition and prevent it from going on the ballot because the language is too broad.
But on July 2, State Elections Director Christopher Thomas handed a victory to working families in Michigan. He said the Secretary of State doesn’t have the authority to determine whether a union-backed proposal to change the state constitution is too broad, and he said their office would continue verifying the 684,286 signatures collected by the Protect Our Jobs Coalition.
“We fully expect that the amendment will go to the voters in the general election, and that working families across Michigan will get the opportunity to stand up for collective bargaining rights,” said a statement from We Are The People-Michigan, a community coalition supporting the petition effort.
Business interests are expected to toss up even more roadblocks, including lawsuits, to keep the ballot initiative off the ballot. And then there’s a public information campaign: The Michigan Chamber of Commerce introduced the Grow Michigan Jobs website on July 9.
“It’s a special interest feeding frenzy,” the group’s website says. “One group of union bosses wants to add hundreds of words to the constitution that have one goal in mind: giving a handful of union bosses veto power over just about every budget decision our state and local governments, school districts and universities make.”
The self-proclaimed mission of the group is to “educate, inform, and engage Michigan employers and employees in initiatives that advance Michigan’s economic vitality and job creation, while warning of potential legislative activity and anti-business special interest groups that threaten the plans to reinvent our state.”
Under the headline “Michigan is growing jobs again – Don’t let union bosses slam on the brakes!” the group’s website says, “Unions have declared war on our state’s economic competitiveness with a deceptive and counter-productive ballot proposal to roll back Michigan’s progress – even trying to hijack the state’s constitution.”
The language in the ballot proposal is considerably less deceptive than the business groups would have voters believe. The first part of the ballot proposal says: “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.” Five other sections follow, and they can be found at www.protectourjobs.com.
A consortium of unions in Michigan decided that the Protect Our Jobs ballot initiative was necessary because collective bargaining rights in Michigan have been trampled over the past 18 months, since Republican lawmakers took total control in Lansing. The Emergency Financial Manager law adopted last year allows governor-appointed dictators to go into local communities and void collective bargaining agreements. Project labor agreements in the construction industry have been outlawed where state taxpayer dollars are involved.
Public Act 53-12 prohibits public schools from collecting union dues from employees. Public Act 45-12 prohibits graduate students from having collective bargaining rights. Public Act 260-11 prohibits collective bargaining when new authorities are created through consolidation.
Other proposals would create right-to-work zones in Michigan, repeal the state Prevailing Wage Act, and expand and increase state penalties for public employee strikes.
State Republicans and the business community argue that all those legislative attacks on working families and organized labor are being done in the name of job creation. Others beg to differ.
“When students, seniors and working families who are part of our coalition see rich CEOs and corporate special interests come out against a ballot proposal, that’s a pretty good reason to be in favor of it,” said Director Todd Cook of We Are the People, Michigan. “Working families have a ton of reasons to support Project Our Jobs. It’s about nurses, teachers and firefighters having a voice on the job so they can protect the public. That means better safety, training and high quality services for taxpayers.
“It’s also about protecting middle class jobs with vacations, holidays, retirement and other benefits that start with collective bargaining and then spread throughout the economy. We Are the People, Michigan supports this ballot initiative, because good jobs with good wages are what we need to keep our state moving forward.”