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Latest News - March 2012

March 19, 2012
Gov. Snyder to unions: Back off petition drive against right-to-work
Source: Detroit Free Press
By: Paul Egan

Gov. Rick Snyder, who has tried repeatedly to discourage conservatives in his party from pursuing right-to-work legislation, now wants unions to back off pushing a ballot proposal that would make such a law unconstitutional.

Snyder said last week that he opposes both ideas for the same reason -- they are too divisive.

The governor, now on a trade mission to Europe, said he has made preliminary overtures to union leaders, asking them to "reconsider and to have a dialogue" about a petition drive aimed at enshrining collective bargaining in the Michigan Constitution.

"My concern is that could start a whole divisive atmosphere of other people trying to put right-to-work on the ballot, a whole bunch of things like that, and that would distract from the good things we've got going on," Snyder said.

But organizers of labor's Protect Our Jobs initiative say they have no plans to back off. And Michigan business leaders say they are prepared to "fight fire with fire" in what could shape up as a major test of the respective strengths of management and unions in the lead-up to the Nov. 6 election.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce has remained neutral on right-to-work -- a shorthand phrase for making it illegal to require workers to financially support a union as a condition of employment. But the chamber won't sit on the sidelines during an attempt to amend the constitution, said President and CEO Rich Studley.

"We'd rather not have this fight at all," said Studley, who echoed the governor's call for the unions to reconsider the petition drive. However, "it would just be wrong for labor leaders to assume that there won't be active opposition."

At the Capitol today, the Board of State Canvassers is to consider the wording of the Protect Our Jobs petition, which goes well beyond banning right-to-work.

By enshrining collective-bargaining rights, the initiative also would invalidate several laws passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature and signed by Snyder in the last 15 months, including a ban on university graduate student research assistants forming unions; an end to government employers collecting dues on behalf of unions, and a requirement that unionized employees pay 20% of the cost of their health care.

Zack Pohl, a spokesman for We Are the People, a member of the coalition pushing the ballot initiative, said Snyder's request for unions to tread carefully to avoid a backlash rings hollow when the Legislature has proceeded with one bill after another that coalition members see as anti-worker.

"That just underscores the need for it," Pohl said. "We fully expect more attacks from Legislature politicians and corporate CEOs."

To get the proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot, backers must collect about 320,000 valid signatures by July 9. Pohl said signature collecting is already underway but wouldn't say how many have been gathered.

Protect Our Jobs expects to use a combination of volunteer and paid collectors, Pohl said. The group is raising money, but he wouldn't specify its fund-raising goal.

Pohl said he was not aware of any direct overtures to the coalition by Snyder, but said the governor could have contacted individual union leaders and he wouldn't necessarily be aware of that.

David Hecker, Michigan president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Snyder's willingness to sign the bill preventing graduate research assistants from unionizing tells a different story than his public calls to end divisiveness.

Hecker said he looks forward to working on the ballot initiative to "once and for all protect the rights of workers to collectively bargain."

Indiana recently became the first state in the industrial Midwest to enact right-to-work legislation.

Indiana borders Michigan, and right-to-work proponents say its recent action steps up pressure for Michigan to follow suit or suffer competitively when prospective industries decide where to locate.

A right-to-work bill has not yet been introduced in the Michigan Legislature, and sponsors still won't say when one will be.

State Rep. Mike Shirkey, a Republican from Clarklake, said the ballot initiative may delay his plans to introduce such a bill, but won't defeat it.

Shirkey said his approach of focusing on educational efforts as a prelude to unveiling legislation now will be postponed as fighting the initiative becomes "the highest priority."

"The people of Michigan are tired of the bullying of union bosses," Shirkey said.




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