UAW readies right-to-work fight, Union seeks ballot initiative to amend Michigan
March 2, 2012 at 1:00 am
UAW readies right-to-work fight
Union seeks ballot initiative to amend Michigan Constitution
By David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau
Washington — The United Auto Workers and other unions will push to get a measure on Michigan’s November ballot to prevent “right to work” advocates from changing the state’s labor laws.
UAW President Bob King said Thursday a coalition of unions, meeting in Washington this week, agreed to undertake a petition drive to change the Michigan Constitution.
“In that meeting, we got consensus,” King told more than 1,000 UAW members and retirees at a legislative conference in the capital.
“The UAW has been out in front, advocating for Michigan, that we do a ballot initiative to change the Michigan Constitution to protect workers against corporations and guarantee workers’ right to collective bargaining.”
UAW leaders will meet at the UAW Ford Center in Detroit next week on the planned campaign — and could officially unveil it, with other unions, as early as then.
“This is going to be a major undertaking,” King said. The unions want to collect 500,000 signatures, about double what is required by law, to get the measure before voters in November.
Michigan is home to 671,000 union members, or 17.5 percent of the state’s 3.8 million workers. That’s up from 627,000 in 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January. Michigan has the fifth-highest percentage of workers in unions in the United States.
“We hope that Michigan can lead what will then be movements around the United States to guarantee workers’ rights to organize and to collective bargaining,” King said.
Unions, he said, “have a need to be protected from these huge corporations. The pendulum has swung and the fairness has swung way out of skew.”
Prediction of support
In an interview, King predicted Michigan voters would “overwhelmingly” support the initiative. It may have the added benefit of increasing turnout among union voters, which could be a plus for the Democratic ticket.
Unions — especially public sector unions — have faced pressure from Republicans over the last year in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Ohio and Indiana.
Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker won legislation that stripped most collective bargaining rights from most state workers. Voters in Ohio in November overturned a law that would have limited collective bargaining rights of 350,000 teachers, police, fire and other government employees.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to consider right-to-work legislation this year. But he hasn’t ruled it out down the road.
Paul Kersey, labor policy director of the free-market Mackinac Center, said the unions face risks by pushing the issue.
“It certainly is a gamble,” said Kersey, who supports right-to-work legislation.
If the unions get the issue on the ballot, and it fails, right-to-work supporters would have the ammunition to approve it in 2013.
Last month, Indiana became the 23rd state to allow unionized workers to skip paying dues. It is the first state to do so since Oklahoma in 2001.
End to ‘closed shops’
In 1947, Congress overrode President Harry Truman’s veto of the Taft-Hartley Act. Until then, employers could allow “closed shops,” requiring employees to be members of unions as a condition of employment.
Right-to-work advocates say manufacturing has grown faster in right-to-work states — especially in the South — because some employers favor dealing with weaker unions. Foreign automakers have tended to locate most plants in right-to-work states.
Unions cite 2008 data that wages were 12 percent higher in states without right-to-work laws.