LANSING, Mich. — A labor union coalition officially launched a broad campaign Tuesday that it says is aimed at protecting collective bargaining rights, including an attempt to pre-empt a possible “right-to-work” movement by Michigan Republicans.
Unions want to present the proposed constitutional amendment to voters in November. To do that, supporters would have to collect at least 322,609 valid voter signatures.
The unions’ “Protect Our Jobs” campaign was launched less than a week after United Auto Workers President Bob King said a Michigan coalition had agreed to mount a petition drive aimed at preventing lawmakers from adopting right-to-work laws. It turns out the campaign covers much more ground than that.
Right-to-work laws generally prohibit labor contracts that require workers to pay union representation fees, and debate has intensified in Michigan in part because Indiana recently became the first Rust Belt state to adopt such a measure.
Republicans hold the majority in the Michigan Legislature. Some of them support right-to-work laws, and House Speaker Jase Bolger leans toward supporting a proposal. But Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has said he doesn’t want a right-to-work measure sent to his desk and Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville said he doesn’t think such a bill would pass in the Senate.
The union campaign, however, goes well beyond the right-to-work issue — which will draw more uniform opposition from Republicans. The ballot proposal potentially could affect a slew of other bills that Michigan lawmakers already have or soon could pass related to collective bargaining rights.
“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.
Republicans say the proposal goes too far, attempting to put unions above needed changes to state law.
“The language being used is very, very broad and puts unions in a position to be well beyond the reach of any changes by the Legislature or any action on the part of the Legislature when representing the interests of their constituents,” said Amber McCann, a spokeswoman for Richardville.
Ari Adler, a spokesman for Bolger, said the proposal as written “essentially tips the balance of power at the negotiating table all the way over to the union bosses” and hinders the ability of lawmakers to address anything that could be included in a union contract.
Courts might be left to sort out some of the broad proposal’s ramifications. Part of it reads “no existing or future law of the state...shall abridge, impair or limit” the collective bargaining rights outlined elsewhere in the proposal.
There is an exception that appears to maintain the illegality of strikes by certain public employees. But the amendment could affect a wide range of other proposals, such as one that soon will be headed to Snyder to ban graduate student research assistants from forming unions.
The union-backed amendment also might raise questions about the state’s emergency manager law, which gives the state-appointed officials power to unilaterally toss out union contracts. The emergency manager law already faces court challenges.