Labor Strikes First in Michigan
July 30, 2012 10:49 am
Michigan unions have observed the rising tide of opposition to organized labor, and are pre-empting threatened “right to work” legislation with a ballot initiative called “Protect Our Jobs.” If passed, the initiative would enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state’s constitution — a landmark victory for labor in an era of increasingly aggrieved and beleaguered union (or former union) workers.
Earlier this year, Indiana became the nation’s 23rd right-to-work state. Scott Walker survived a bitterly contested recall election after stripping public unions of their collective bargaining rights. Ohio successfully repealed Senate Bill 5, which would have imposed similarly draconian measures on public employees.
Michigan is one of the last, best strongholds of union power. Eighteen percent of the state’s residents belong to a union, the fifth highest rate in the US, but Republicans control Michigan’s house and senate, and house speaker Jase Bolger leans toward supporting right-to-work legislation. Sensing a disconnect between workers and legislators, union volunteers fanned out across the state, collecting nearly 700,000 signatures in support of the Protect our Jobs act. The signatures — about double the amount required for the measure to appear on November’s ballot — were submitted to Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson last month.
Unions have raised $8.1 million in support of the ballot initiative which seeks to:
- Establish the people’s rights to organize to form, join or assist unions and to bargain collectively with public or private employers regarding wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment
- Prohibit employers from retaliating against their employees for exercising those rights
- Prohibit State and local governments from interfering with those rights
- Authorize the State to restrict or prohibit public employee strikes
- Protect current laws establishing minimum wages, hours and working conditions
- Prohibit government from interfering with agreements respecting employees’ financial support of their union
- Grant state civil service employees collective bargaining rights.
Critics are deriding the measure as an “economic death warrant,” yet with Romney and Obama polling neck-and-neck in Michigan, the automotive industry bouncing back, and privatization advocates occupying the state’s capital, the Protect our Jobs Act does have a chance to pass. Volunteers are going door-to-door to build support for the Bring our Jobs Home act and to raise awareness of the systemic opposition to collective bargaining rights in the Midwest. The initiative could not only act as a model for other legislation that would protect collective bargaining rights — it could also lead to a clear (and much needed) demonstration of labor’s power at the polls.
Image from here