If adopted, 'Protect Our Jobs' could affect 170 state laws
Union bosses now have a chance to seize control of Michigan's constitution.
The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the so-called Protect Our Jobs proposal will be on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot.
The union-backed plan would change the state constitution and allow unions to challenge any current, past or potential law that dealt with collective bargaining. Notably, it could undo significant education reforms signed into law in 2011.
It also would prevent Michigan from ever becoming a right-to-work state, which gives workers the freedom to choose whether they want to belong to a union; it would make it more difficult for schools to get rid of under-performing teachers; forbid teacher performance to be considered when determining which teachers would be laid off; and it would allow government union employees to get automatic pay raises even after their contracts expire.
"Voters now have a very important decision to make," said F. Vincent Vernuccio, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's director of labor policy. "Do they want to give union officials more power than legislators and local elected officials, or do they want to move ahead with reforms that could keep Michigan on the path of recovery? The amendment could fundamentally change how Michigan is governed."
One estimate of the initiative’s reach suggests that the proposal — if adopted — could repeal to varying degrees some 170 Michigan laws.
Few, if any, of these effects of the proposal are likely to be mentioned in the 100-word ballot language. That's one of the points those opposed to the proposal used in their effort to keep the initiative off the ballot. The state supreme court unanimously disagreed with the opposition.
A coalition of unions is backing the proposal with at least $8 million. A coalition of business groups opposed to the proposal, called Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution, is expected to spend millions of dollars trying to defeat it.
"With the court decision behind us, the campaign to fully inform voters can begin," said Stu Sandler, consultant for Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution. "Michigan's citizens have a clear choice this November between protecting our state's constitution and economic future or returning to the failed policies of the past by handing control of the state and perhaps billions of state and local tax dollars to a handful of union bosses.
"While we are disappointed with the Court's decision to allow a purposefully misleading and job killing proposal on the ballot, we are fully prepared and will work each and every day between now and Nov. 6 to inform Michigan families about the real purpose behind this deceptive proposal," Sandler said. "If adopted this proposal would have a devastating effect on our state, but we are confident that on Election Day voters will tell Big Labor 'No, hands off our constitution.' "
Money and advertising will play a huge role in the outcome, said Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics.
"I'd say that defining the proposal is the key element, but saying that doesn't account for the question of money," he said. "I mean, one side could have the greatest arguments and message imaginable, but it might not matter if the other side swamps them in terms of spending.
"We don't know at this point what might happen," Ballenger said. "This issue is so huge. We might see some super PAC (political action committee) in Washington, D.C., come sweeping in with $10 million and either side could end up being completely outspent.
“I've never seen anything like it," Ballenger said. "The unions have already been running ads and doing automated calls even before they knew for sure that it would make it onto the ballot. This is just huge, and if it passes, it would be really bad."
In right-to-work states, joining a union or contributing dues or fees to a union is not a required condition of employment. Polling shows that a large majority of Michigan's likely voters favor a right-to-work law.
When the proposal was first described by United Auto Workers President Bob King he called it a "right-to-work ban." Since then, however, the unions stopped using that description.
Mackinac Center President Joseph G. Lehman in June offered an open invitation to King to publicly debate the issue.
"I believe voters would be well served by a forthright and public debate between us as they make up their minds in the coming months," Lehman said.
King has yet to accept the debate offer.
For more information on the "Protect Our Jobs" proposal and other ballot initiatives, visit www.MIballot2012.org.