October 25, 2012; Source: New York Times

Largely because of the automotive industry, unions have been a strong force in Michigan for many years, so where better to try a new tactic that would reverse the momentum of anti-union legislation that has been sweeping the nation? According to a recent article in the New York Times, there are three pro-union items on the Michigan ballot for November 6th, one of which is a proposal that would amend the constitution to protect unions’ collective bargaining rights. The union-friendly Proposal 2 would write collective bargaining rights and a ban on so-called “right to work” laws into the state Constitution.

Going on the offensive like this is a new tactic for unions, the Times reports. F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center, notes, “Besides the presidential race, Proposal 2 is probably going to be the most significant thing on the ballot nationally... The nation is on a teeter right now on union matters, and Michigan will give momentum to one side or the other depending on how this plays out.”

As can be imagined, the two sides of the issue are waging an all-out battle, spending more than $30 million, it is estimated, to sway voters. Pro-business groups argue that Proposal 2 would raise the cost of doing business and would make the legislature look weak. Proponents argue that it protects a right the unions have fought for and have used to do good for workers of all kinds, whether union members or not.

Also on the ballot is a union-backed proposal repealing a law that allows emergency managers to void union contracts. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder believes the law is necessary to allow emergency managers the power and flexibility to right the financial ship of troubled communities. But unions are arguing that these emergency managers, who are appointed to oversee communities in financial crisis, represent a “power grab against democratically run communities,” as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) puts it.

In a time when anti-union legislation is being promoted in states around the country, Michigan could prove to be where labor begins to fight back. The battle also resonates within the context of the current presidential election. Is it good for the community to give owners of businesses what they need to make as much money as possible, or do the workers at those businesses have a right to benefit also? –Rob Meiksins