Proposal 2 draws differing responses to, views of potential law

By: Brad D. Bates | C&G Newspapers | Published October 24, 2012

The proponents of Proposal 2, which asks voters Nov. 6 to amend the Michigan Constitution, view it as affirming inalienable rights to organize unions and collectively bargain, while opponents view it as “ambiguous” with a “very negative impact on labor relations in the state.”

The ballot language in Proposal 2, also known as the Protect Our Jobs Ballot Initiative, grants “public and private employees the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively through labor unions.”

It goes on to “invalidate existing or future state or local laws that limit the ability to join unions and bargain collectively, and to negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements, including employees’ financial support of their labor unions. Laws may be enacted to prohibit public employees from striking.”

These two provisions seem to be where the difference of opinions on the measure and its effects begin.

“There’s a lot of unknowns with it, and I think it was poorly thought out and poorly drawn up, and it would have a very negative impact on labor relations in the state,” Craig Lange, Shelby Township labor attorney, said. “The thing that bothers me the most is that there’s a provision in there that indicates any laws that restrict or regulate collective bargaining would be unconstitutional.

“We have a lot of laws right now that have been on the books for many years that would arguably just be immediately deemed unconstitutional if that language was passed by the electorate. The unknowns related to the passage of this legislation are a very big concern to me, and I am hoping that, as a result, the electorate will not be in favor of it.”

Union members like Trevor Staples, a member of the Michigan Education Association and a third-grade teacher in Ann Arbor, disagreed with that stance and said the possible amendment merely affirms the status quo of past union practices.

“To say teachers, police, fire or factory workers are going to be superpowers because of this is not true,” Staples said. “Every contract will still have to be negotiated. That’s what collective bargaining is.

“This isn’t going to force anyone to join a union,” Staples added. “This keeps that choice and allows us to bargain.”

Lange, who heads negotiations between Shelby Township and its seven labor unions, said he believes that if Proposal 2 passes, it could “have a significant impact” on the way union contracts are negotiated.

“You have a crystal ball? Because I would like to look into it,” Lange said when asked how the proposed law would affect future negotiations.

“That’s part of the problem. The nature of the proposal is so unclear and ambiguous that we’ll have to take a wait-and-see attitude. But I’m concerned it’s written broad enough that it will have a significant impact on laws written to regulate how bargaining goes.”

Another issue cited by Lange hinges on Proposal 2 being sought as an amendment to the state constitution, which would require another vote of the people to repeal and return to the model currently in place.

“From a constitutional angle, these things need to be carefully thought about,” Lange said. “I think, philosophically, when special interest groups start writing proposals to tack onto a constitution, I think that’s ill-advised.

“It politicizes something that shouldn’t be politicized, and that’s the constitution.”

Staples said, though, that history dictates that the measure be placed as a constitutional amendment, rather than leave it to state lawmakers to decide terms of employment, such as wages and benefits.

“If we put our trust in powerful people, that’s happened before, and we had no rights,” Staples said. “That’s why we have unions.”

He noted the importance of the jobs covered by the proposal.

“(Teachers) build the communities of the future, firefighters save people and police keep us safe,” Staples said about why those unions deserve constitutionally guaranteed collective bargaining rights. “We should strive for the best.”