The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 01, 2018

Under review: Supreme Court looks at petition circulators in prevailing wage repeal process

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor



LANSING - The future of the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act is now in the hands of the state Supreme Court, as they agreed on May 15 to suspend an Appeals Court ruling which would have advanced the process of a petition seeking to repeal the law. 

The Supreme Court suspended a May 11 appeals court ruling that ordered the state Board of Canvassers to certify a petition that would send the prevailing wage repeal issue to a vote before the state Legislature. Then on May 23, the high court furthered their review by requesting briefs from the two sides of the case. At press time, the case was still under review.

"We see the requesting of briefs as a positive development because the Supreme Court could have simply have reviewed the case and dropped the matter, and let the appeals court ruling stand," said Patrick Devlin, secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. He's also co-chair of Protect Michigan Jobs, the front group for the labor-contractor coalition fighting to keep the prevailing wage law intact. 

The Michigan Board of Canvassers on April 26 deadlocked 2-2 on whether a petition drive conducted by Protect Michigan Taxpayers should proceed to the state Legislature in the form of a bill that would repeal the state's 1965 Prevailing Wage Act. The tie vote did not advance the bill. PMT is a front group for the Associated Builders and Contractors - Michigan.

At its core, the case before the Supreme Court asks what should happen if petition circulators don't follow directions, and sign the document while providing a false or wrong residential address. Should that wrong address invalidate all the signatures above on those petition sheets? Each sheet has up to eight signatures, and in this case, invalidating the faulty circulator would easily lower the number of valid signatures below the state's threshold, invalidating the entire petition process.

According to the interpretation in the 3-0 appeals court ruling, state law says there is a potential civil penalty for a circulator providing an improper home address, but the penalty should not involve disallowing the signatures on the sheet above. Appeals Judge Elizabeth Gleicher wrote that union-backed Protect Michigan Jobs was asking the court “to find a penalty where none exists."

But PMJ attorney Andrea Hansen said that appeals court decision "calls into question the entire legislative process. You will no longer need honest circulators because this ruling allows people to lie about the basic fundamentals of the signature collection process. In today's case, more than one-third of the circulators were fraudulent, and this decision seriously undermines the integrity of the election law process and the procedures that have protected Michigan's voters."

Protecting Michigan Taxpayers handed in 379,903 signatures to repeal prevailing wage. The Board of Canvassers' 2-2 tie came after staffers for the state Bureau of Elections recommended that after a review of a sampling of 4,443 of those signatures, 3,139 were valid (the minimum number to recommend certification in the state's sample formula was 2,954). The appeals court ruled the Canvassars have a "clear legal duty" to OK the petitions, even if there are legitimate questions about the petition circulators.

But perhaps the Supreme Court sees the bigger picture: was it the Legislature's intent to write a law that would allow a petition circulator to sign his name as Mickey Mouse and leave an address at Disneyland - and still have the signatures he collected count?

If the Supreme Court agrees with the appeals court ruling, then the Board of Canvassers will meet again and almost certainly vote to approve the petition. Then the repeal issue will go before both the Michigan House and Senate for a vote. The state Senate is considered a lost cause - Republicans will vote overwhelmingly vote for repeal because they enjoy a 26-11 majority.

The vote to repeal in the state House - which has a few more centrist Republicans - is expected to be much closer.  Building trades workers and their families are asked to contact their state House lawmaker and urge them to vote no if the prevailing wage issue comes before them. Go to www.michiganbuildingtrades.org and go to "Our Issues" for an easy way to find and contact your state rep.

If the House doesn't have the votes to repeal prevailing wage, the issue then goes onto the November general election ballot for a vote of the people.

"We will continue to fight for the hard-working men and women in the State of Michigan," said Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council President Steve Claywell. "We will continue to seek all legal recourse on these fraudulent petitions."