“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.”
– President John F. Kennedy
Since the modern laws establishing the right to exist for unions in the 1930s, never before in Michigan has organized labor been in such a crisis, or had such an opportunity. It’s impossible to overstate how important passage of Proposal 2 is to the future of organized labor in Michigan. If it fails on the Nov. 6 ballot, it is possible, even likely, to see Michigan becoming a right-to-work state before the end of the year. And making Michigan a right-to-work state is certain to bring about less of voice in the workplace for workers, and the inevitable lowering of wage and benefits standards, which once set the pace for a prosperous nation.
Between now and Nov. 6, I’m challenging every member of every building trades union in Michigan to commit to voting “Yes” on Proposal 2. But more than that, I’m challenging you to talk with family members or a neighbor or two, or three, about voting Yes on Two. Maybe a personal word from you will overcome the barrage of anti-Proposal 2 ads that are being funded by special interests coming in from outside Michigan.
Talking about Proposal 2 isn’t the same as talking – or yelling – about traditional politics over candidates who have a “D” or “R” after their names. Obama and Romney are not involved in this.
During any given election cycle, building trades union members, or for that matter, all of organized labor, rarely votes as a bloc for a candidate or a party. It seems like wedge issues such as firearm rights, gay marriage or abortion will always split our votes. This year specifically, issues like the federal budget deficit and the existence of ObamaCare will further divide our votes at the ballot box. Organized labor’s support of one political party over another frustrates some in our ranks, but addressing that is another column for another day.
Voting Yes on Proposal 2 isn’t about a candidate, or any political ideology. It’s about maintaining our rights to collectively bargain with employers. The ballot proposal wouldn’t force anyone in Michigan to join a union. It wouldn’t force anyone to pay union dues, and doesn’t place a worker into a union if he isn’t already in one. And if it is passed, it preserves a state law adopted in 1965 that allows public workers to collectively bargain.
As the Protect Our Jobs organizers put it, “Collective bargaining simply prevents those who want to eliminate working people’s rights from being able to do it. Collective bargaining for wages, benefits and pensions is an American right.”
Now, it’s obvious to anyone that it’s the Republican lawmakers in Michigan who are taking away worker and union benefits rights in Michigan. At last count, the Michigan AFL-CIO reports that in the last 20 months there have been nearly 100 anti-worker proposals or laws adopted by Republican lawmakers, who hold every lever of power in Lansing.
For example: State Republican lawmakers have twice eliminated the availability of construction project labor agreements. Prevailing wage is on their hit list. A proposal is in place to restrict picketing. Michigan was the first in the nation to reduce state jobless benefits, from 26 weeks to 20 weeks. Added restrictions made getting jobless benefits more difficult. The Emergency Financial Manager law means a virtual dictator can abrogate union contracts at will in financially struggling communities. There are other Republican proposals to eliminate MIOSHA, prohibit expanded ergonomic safety rules in the workplace, and remove the state requirement for employers to notify the public when they’re about to hire scabs.
And of course, several right-to-work bills are in the hopper, waiting for the Protect Our Jobs/Protect Working Familes proposal to go down at the ballot box. Check out for yourself what state Republicans lawmakers have been up to at www.miaflcio.org, then click on “Legislative.”
On Sept. 5, the conservatively tilted Michigan Supreme Court issued a surprising ruling that riled conservative lawmakers, placing Proposal 2 on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Their decision ultimately upheld the controversial ballot language for organized labor and working people in the state, who helped collect more than 600,000 petition signatures to place the referendum on the ballot.
If voters approve Proposal 2, the Protect Our Jobs/Protect Working Families amendment would enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution, and permanently prohibit passage of a statewide right-to-work law, and other anti-labor proposals.
State Republicans and the conservative media are framing their attacks against Proposal 2 in part as an effort to “keep our hands off the state Constitution,” as if there’s something holy about it. In fact, the Michigan Constitution has been amended 31 times since it was written in 1963.
And organized labor wouldn’t be going through all of this if weren’t absolutely necessary. State Republicans have been chipping away at workers’ rights since they came into office and began controlling the state in January 2011. There was no end in sight to the anti-worker legislation. Gov. Snyder could have flat-out said that he would veto a right-to-work law that comes across his desk, but all we ever heard from him was a squishy “that’s not on my agenda.” He told the Detroit News on Sept. 13 that passage of Proposal 2 “could really set us back from the good things going on.”
The governor will excuse some of us from thinking that what has happened with complete and radical change in state government doesn’t reflect the will of the people and aren’t “good things.”
Organized labor and working people didn’t pick this fight, but nothing has worked to move Michigan Republicans from the hard-right turn they have taken to embrace the Tea Party and throw organized labor under the bus.
So it became necessary to go on the offensive. But the offensive to support Proposal 2 will only work if people who would benefit from its passage are willing to go the extra step of standing up for it.
Apathy is not an option. That means going to the polls, bringing your registered, voting-age kids, and talking it up with friends and family.
Voting for Proposal 2 offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bolster organized labor in Michigan, and stick it to the rich corporations and 1 percenters who know that unions are all that stands between their total control of our government, while providing working people with a voice.