Unions Aim to Seal ‘Rights’ Into Michigan Constitution


On the heels of the epic clash over collective bargaining in Wisconsin, labor groups in neighboring Michigan are launching an aggressive bid to erect a force-field around union benefits by enshrining their bargaining “rights” in the state constitution.

The union-backed campaign has business leaders and Republican lawmakers gearing up for an election fight. Unions are pushing to get their initiative on the November ballot and have submitted more than enough signatures to qualify.

The seemingly straightforward measure would call for a constitutional amendment creating a right to collective bargaining. But critics warn it could short-circuit and roll back, respectively, dozens of legislative proposals and existing laws — as well as prevent the state from ever passing a “right-to-work” law barring unions from demanding dues from employees.

Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger described the push as an “overreach” that would unravel the legislature’s work.

“It would undo the reforms we’ve adopted in the past year and a half,” Bolger told FoxNews.com.

Republicans took control of the Michigan capital in the 2010 elections and have since passed several union-curbing bills. They include measures that require public union workers to pay at least 20 percent of health care costs, that ban unions from automatically deducting dues from school employees and that require workers to pay more into the state retirement system.

Republicans say the collective-bargaining amendment could threaten any of those measures and more, which Bolger warned would upend the state’s finances just as they were getting back on track.

“It will send Michigan on the direction of Illinois and California, without any doubt,” he said.

Supporters, though, cast the ballot measure as a response to an overreach by lawmakers in Lansing that stripped union workers of their benefits and impeded the bargaining process.

We Are the People, one of numerous groups backing the campaign, called the proposal last month a vehicle to “protect the middle-class jobs, with good wages and benefits, that are the backbone of the Michigan economy.”

Organizers behind the ballot question did not return calls from FoxNews.com for comment.

The Protect Our Jobs coalition on its website explains that workers are facing wage and benefit cuts, and that “experience has taught us that the best way to fight these cuts is to protect the right of every worker to collectively bargain.”

Some have also questioned GOP claims that their proposal could nullify dozens of laws.

Supporters in June filed 684,000 petition signatures with the state, more than twice the number needed to qualify for the ballot. State officials still have to give the signatures and the question the green light.

The “Protect Our Jobs” question is one of a dizzying array of proposed ballot measures in Michigan this year. Among the measures is a proposed amendment requiring utilities to get at least a quarter of their electricity from renewable energy sources and a proposed amendment to recognize “the right of the people to alter or abolish” the government. The list of proposals also includes proposed amendments to further curtail union rights and benefits.


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