The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, October 12, 2012

Some yeas, nays on ballot proposals

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

Six proposals are on the Nov. 6 ballot – leaving plenty of room for voter confusion, error, and perhaps an inclination to just vote “no” on all of them, or ignore them.

Bad idea. To varying degrees, the labor movement in Michigan has a stake in every one of the ballot proposals. None are as vital as a “yes” vote on Proposal 2, but all are important in their own way.

Following are the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council’s recommendations on how to vote for the statewide proposals on the general election ballot.

Proposal 1: VOTE NOA referendum on whether or not to repeal Public Act 4 of 2011, the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act.

The act allows the governor to impose an emergency financial manager on financially troubled local governments in Michigan.

The ballot text reads as follows:

 Public Act 4 of 2011 would: Establish criteria to assess the financial condition of local government units, including school districts.

  • Authorize Governor to appoint an emergency manager (EM) upon state finding of a financial emergency, and allow the EM to act in place of local government officials.
  • Require the EM to develop financial and operating plans, which may include modification or termination of contracts, reorganization of government, and determination of expenditures, services, and use of assets until the emergency is resolved.
  • Alternatively, authorize state-appointed review team to enter into a local government approved consent decree.

Should this law be approved?

A “yes” vote will re-establish PA 4, which was temporarily suspended ahead of this vote. A “no” vote will strike down PA 4 and is expected to result in re-implementation of PA 72, the state’s previous law that provided emergency financial managers with fewer powers.

Organized labor in Michigan is particularly against Public Act 4 because emergency financial managers have the power to unilaterally abrogate contracts and collective bargaining agreements.

Public Act 4 “affords these local dictators – or Emergency Managers – literally dictatorial powers over units of local government,” said AFSCME Local 25 President Al Garrett. “Under this law, an appointed official for whom no one has voted, is granted the power to remove duly elected officials from office, to suspend or disband elected bodies such as school boards or city councils, to sell public assets, borrow against the public purse, and even to void contracts of all sorts, including collective bargaining agreements.

“What we see, on all levels of our government, today is an attempt to deal with the fiscal problems we have by strapping it on the back of working and middle class families,” Garrett added.

Proposal 2. VOTE YESA Proposed Constitutional Amendment that will determine whether the state should enshrine in the Michigan Constitution collective bargaining rights for public and private sector employees.

According to Protect Working Families, which led the effort to gather nearly 700,000 signatures to place this proposal on the statewide ballot, Proposal 2 would:

  • Establish the people’s rights to organize to form, join or assist unions and to bargain collectively with public or private employers regarding wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment.
  • Prohibit employers from retaliating against their employees for exercising those rights.
  • Prohibit state and local governments from interfering with those rights.
  • Authorize the state to restrict or prohibit public employee strikes.
  • Protect current laws establishing minimum wages, hours and working conditions.
  • Prohibit government from interfering with agreements respecting employees’ financial support of their union.
  • Grant state civil service employees’ collective bargaining rights.

For union members in Michigan, it’s not an overstatement to say that this is the most important candidate or proposal they have seen on a ballot, or likely will ever see, in their lifetime. State Republicans, many pundits say, will think they have a mandate and a clear path to making Michigan a right-to-work state if Proposal 2 loses at the polls on Nov. 6.

Passage of Proposal 2, however, prevents the state from becoming right-to-work. It throws out the state’s emergency financial manager law, which in itself eliminates collective bargaining. The proposal does not require people to join a union. It maintains the ability of public workers to collectively bargain for wages, benefits and working conditions, as they have done since 1965.

“If collective bargaining rights are taken away in Michigan, which is likely if this proposal fails,” said Todd Tennis, a Lansing lobbyist for the IBEW, “you’re going to see a rapid decline in wages and benefits. And that’s not how you protect the middle class, it’s how you undermine the middle class.”

Proposal 3. VOTE NOA proposed Constitutional amendment regarding renewable energy standards in Michigan.

It’s nicknamed the 25 x 25 ballot proposal because it would call for Michigan to require electric utilities to provide at least 25 percent of their retail electricity sales from renewable resources by 2025. It’s a push beyond a state law adopted in 2008 that requires 10 percent of Michigan’s energy to come from renewable sources, like solar and wind, by 2015.

The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council joined a coalition with other unions, the state Chamber of Commerce and major utility employers like DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, in strongly opposing Proposal 3. The utilities say they’re on course to meet the 10 percent energy requirements, but the 25 percent renewable requirement could raise rates and bring about unintended, undesirable consequences.

Some reasons to oppose Proposal 3:

  • Much of the hoped-for renewable power depends on whether the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.
  • The coalition pointed out that no other states in the union have locked renewable energy requirements in their constitution.
  • The coalition estimates that in order to meet the proposed standard, the state would need 3,100 new wind turbines on about 500,000 acres of land. And the push to make that happen would result in the state overriding local zoning ordinances.
  • The Michigan Building Trades Council sees value in alternative energy projects and the jobs they create. But with the erection of windmills and the placement of solar power comes the bad news for thousands of other building trades workers: the construction of two newly proposed billion-dollar coal-fired power plants have been halted in Michigan in the last two years. Talk about a job killer. And the maintenance on windmills and solar panels is almost non-existent compared to the work that becomes available during a coal-fired power plant outage or renovation.

“Proposal 3 is going to tie the hands of our partners in the utility industry,” said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. “We acknowledge and understand that a lot of our people have had work in solar and wind in the past couple of years, but there are tradespeople who have nearly made careers building and maintaining baseload power plants. Plus there are all kinds of uncertainties involving pushing the renewable limit to 25 percent. The viability of our utilities, which have been great employers for the trades, will be put into question. We’re strongly recommending a No vote on Proposal 3.”

Proposal 4. VOTE YES. A proposed Constitutional amendment allowing unionization of home health care workers.

Here’s the ballot language:

A proposed Constitutional amendment regarding unionization of home health care workers.

A proposal to amend the state Constitution to establish the Michigan Quality Home Care Council and provide collective bargaining for in-home care workers.

This proposal would:

Allow in-home care workers to bargain collectively with the Michigan Quality Home Care Council (MQHCC). Continue the current exclusive representative of in-home care workers until modified in accordance with labor laws.

Require MQHCC to provide training for in-home care workers, create a registry of workers who pass background checks, and provide financial services to patients to manage the cost of in-home care.

Preserve patients’ rights to hire in-home care workers who are not referred from the MQHCC registry who are bargaining unit members.

Authorize the MQHCC to set minimum compensation standards and terms and conditions of employment.

Proposal 4 comes as a response to PA 76, a law approved this year by the Republican-dominated Legislature in Lansing, which prohibited the state Department of Community Health from withholding union dues from home health care workers paid with Medicaid or Medicare funds. The proposed amendment, “would invalidate parts of PA 76 and reestablish a mechanism for collective bargaining by, and collection of union dues from, home health care aides, and would place these provisions in the state’s constitution.” according to Bettie Buss, Senior Research Associate with the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

Proposal 5. VOTE NO. A proposed Constitutional amendment regarding a two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases.

Here’s the ballot language:

Should the Michigan Constitution be amended to require either an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members serving in each chamber of the Michigan legislature (House of Representatives and Senate), or an affirmative vote of Michigan electors at a November election in order to; a) impose new state taxes, b) expand the base of a state tax, or c) increase the rate of a state tax?

The Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council urges a “No” vote. Millions of dollars in public construction that are currently approved by simple majorities in the state House and Senate would require two-thirds super-majorities if Proposal 5 is adopted. For example, getting more statewide road and bridge repair funding approved via higher gas taxes or any other way has been impossible in recent years under even simple majority votes. If, via future elections, the Legislature becomes more inclined to hike taxes to improve road spending in future years, they will then have an even more difficult task to get the money approved with the requirement of a two-thirds majority.

According to Jeffrey Guilfoyle, president of the non-partisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan “The rationale for the adoption of super-majority requirements is to restrict legislative powers to make it more difficult to enact tax increases or adopt new taxes. But the evidence in the literature and from other states is mixed. The growth in total state revenues in states with with super-majority vote requirements have been similar to that experienced in the nation as a whole. States often increase other taxes, fees, and charges to make up for reduced tax collections arising from super-majority vote requirements or decrease the amounts distributed to local governments, school districts, universities, and other entities dependent on state revenues to keep the state budgets balanced.”

Proposal 6. VOTE NO. The Michigan Bridge Initiative.

Do Michigan’s building trades workers need yet another obstacle to creating thousands of construction jobs by erecting a second international trade crossing south of the Ambassador Bridge? We think not.

This proposal would:

  • Require the approval of a majority of voters at a statewide election and in each municipality where “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” are to be located before the State of Michigan may expend state funds or resources for acquiring land, designing, soliciting bids for, constructing, financing, or promoting new international bridges or tunnels.”
  • Create a definition of “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” that means, “any bridge or tunnel which is not open to the public and serving traffic as of January 1, 2012.”

The proposal may or may not affect the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) bridge that has been agreed to by Gov. Snyder and the Canadian government, since the deal was inked before this ballot language surfaced.

And the ballot proposal surfaced by way of billionaire Matty Maroun, who sees the construction of the proposed bridge – which would be government-owned – as a threat to his privately owned Ambassador Bridge. Maroun has spent millions of dollars obtaining the necessary ballot signatures and on ads trying to convince voters to say no to alleged higher taxes brought on by the “government” bridge. He wants to build his own span next to the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge.

In fact, the bridge will be built without Michigan tax dollars, and paid for by the Canadian government. Michigan’s half-share of the cost will be reimbursed over time through bridge tolls.

One major argument for government ownership of the nation’s busiest border crossing: such a vital span should not be under the control of a private owner.

The Center for Michigan’s “Truth Squad,” examining the veracity of political ads, called a “flagrant foul” on Maroun’s television ads supporting Proposal 6.

“The battle over a second bridge is about money – the Moroun family’s money,” the Center says. “The expectation is that a second bridge will reduce traffic on the existing Ambassador, thereby costing the Moroun family money. There is a reason that the family interests have spent millions in campaign contributions, lobbying efforts and TV ads in recent years to stop the NITC project – not to mention what sums have been spent by Moroun interests in legal challenges to the project.

“Michigan voters may want to ask themselves one question : Why are Moroun family interests spending millions to ‘protect’ the average taxpayer?

“Truth Squad Call: Flagrant foul. These ads repeat claims, or advance new variants of old claims, that do not match available documents. The agreement with Canada puts the financial onus on Michigan’s neighbor, not Michigan, for paying the bills, including interest. Since Michigan is not appropriating construction dollars, no dollars are being diverted away from other public uses. Michigan is not increasing its debt load with the NITC project.”