LANSING – Will the Protect Our Jobs ballot initiative improve union voter turnout on Nov. 6?
Labor leaders are counting on it. But it’s a moot point until at least 322,609 petition signatures are collected in an effort that will wrap up with the forms submitted for state approval by July 9. Getting at least that number of petition signatures will put the Protect Our Jobs initiative on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. In order to provide a cushion against invalid signatures, union members supporting the effort across Michigan are aiming at collecting 500,000 signatures.
Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Devlin said the effort “is going well. People in our local unions are excited, people are motivated. We’re continuing with our collection efforts, and we’re getting a lot of calls and help collecting signatures.”
Added Protect Our Jobs spokesman Dan Lijana: “The petition gathering effort has generated tremendous enthusiasm. Volunteers are running a robust signature collection effort to put this important issue on the November ballot.”
The ballot initiative would basically enshrine union rights for Michigan workers in the state constitution. It would also bring to a halt any talk of introducing a right-to-work law in Michigan, as well as overturn a number of anti-union laws that have been enacted by the Republican Legislature in the last 17 months.
Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift said lawyers had carefully prepared the ballot language, adding that “the beauty” of this proposed constitutional amendment is that it “turns back the clock and makes unenforceable the bad laws that were passed in previous sessions,” while preventing anti-worker laws in the future.
The first section of the petition language would amend the Michigan 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.” Five other sections follow, and they can be found at www.protectourjobs.com.
“What this does is it enshrines collective bargaining in the constitution and it gives protections to middle-class families and people around the state from those attacks,” said Todd Cook of We Are the People, a coalition supported by labor unions supporting the ballot initiative.
The reaction by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce to the petition drive was made public in a May 2 press release. “This anti-taxpayer petition drive is squarely aimed at repealing dozens and dozens of cost-saving reform measures recently enacted by Gov. Snyder and the Michigan Legislature,” said Jim Holcomb, senior vice president, business advocacy and general counsel for the Michigan Chamber. “Across the nation, Michigan is increasingly being recognized as a leader in government efficiency and reform for enacting common sense solutions to government spending….”
Added Chamber CEO Richard Studley: "Government employee unions have declared war on our state's economic competitiveness with this deceptive and counterproductive ballot proposal. Michigan's job providers did not ask for this fight. But we will do whatever it takes to defeat the union's plan to stop reinventing Michigan.”
One politician’s view of “government efficiency” could also be termed “union busting,” or putting business needs in front of those of individual taxpayers. “The governor talks about shared sacrifice, but we’re not seeing a shared sacrifice out of the business community,” said Michigan Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing). “We’ve seen an enormous tax shift from business to individuals.”
From the day the Protect Our Jobs campaign kicked off on March 6, the spoken and unspoken sentiment among union leaders and members is that this is an effort by the state’s labor community cannot afford to lose. The Republican backlash against labor would be expected to be even harsher against a perceived weakened labor movement.
“The Protect Our Jobs ballot initiative could be a motivator for union members to get out and vote in November,” said Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics newsletter. “But union members don’t vote monolithically, a lot of issues make them cut the other way. Plus we’re in a presidential election year. Stop and think: if you’re a voter who isn’t energized to vote for the president, are you going to be motivated to vote for a ballot issue? I think what Dems and/or labor have to do this election is to urge their people to pull together and pull one lever (in voting booths) for their party’s candidates and for the ballot proposal.”
Former state GOP House Speaker Rick Johnson, now a lobbyist for the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, offered this pearl of wisdom in March to the council’s delegates regarding the ballot proposal: “My advice is to make sure you make this work.”