- Posted July 30, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Unions Fight for Survival with Michigan Ballot Measure
After a bruising defeat during the Wisconsin Recall Election and seeing numbers falling throughout the US of A, unions are banking on a ballot initiative in Michigan to shore up survival and block more defeats. The initiative would add an amendment to the state constitution to codify the right to unionize workers in the state.
After suffering a string of political setbacks in the U.S. industrial heartland, organized labor hopes Michigan voters will help turn the tide in a November election by supporting a state constitutional amendment for the right to unionize.
The union-backed ballot proposal would make collective bargaining a constitutionally protected right and cripple efforts to pass so-called "right to work" legislation in the state. Critics say the measure, which would cover private as well as public employees, would be a "death warrant" for Michigan's economy because it would discourage businesses from bringing new jobs to Michigan and encourage some already in the state to leave.
Experts say the union push, which included a door-to-door weekend canvassing effort by delegates attending the Detroit convention of the American Federation of Teachers, is likely to increase voter turnout in the fall presidential election in a state that is too close to call.
"It's a critical time and a critical issue," said Marva Boatman, an AFT conference delegate who is a special education teacher from Washington, D.C., as she rang doorbells and knocked on doors outside Detroit on Saturday, asking voters to support the amendment.
Only a handful of states, including Florida and Missouri, have made unionizing an activity protected by the state constitution, according to F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank focused on Michigan.
But the Mackinac Center and other critics, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, say the amendment - which supporters call the "Protect Our Jobs Act" - would be a more sweeping measure.
They claim it would allow public-sector unions to use contract negotiations to override acts of the legislature, such as laws limiting how much taxpayers pay for government employee healthcare.
"It is extremely radical and would fundamentally change the power structure in Michigan," Vernuccio said.
Greg Mourad, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee, said if voters approve the measure they will be "signing their own economic death warrant.
"It would make it significantly harder for Michigan to create and attract jobs," Mourad said.
Michigan has been hard hit by the decades-long struggle of the Detroit-based automakers and the continuing restructuring of the domestic car business. One measure of just how much that restructuring has realigned politics in the state can be seen in the fact that Romney, who has criticized the 2009 auto bailout backed by the once-dominant United Auto Workers union, is running so close with Obama.
In addition to the constitutional amendment, unions also are asking Michigan voters to repeal a law giving state-appointed emergency managers wide powers to cut spending in municipalities and school districts deemed to be experiencing a "financial emergency."
That law has been used to take over more than half a dozen financially ailing cities and school systems in the state in recent years and to void union contracts.
From the Cornfield, I do believe in the right to form unions. However, I also believe that in the last 30-40 years, a majority of unions have lost their way and are more focused on political activity and less on workers and on the economic hardship that has resulted in some situations.