Michigan voters will have the opportunity to impact the future of collective bargaining in the state when they vote on the controversial Proposal 2 on Nov. 6.
The union-backed measure would permanently place collective bargaining rights in the state constitution and prevent the passage of anti-union legislation.
The proposal comes in the wake of a series of anti-union legislation that passed in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio within the past two years. The proposal is an attempt by union supporters to proactively prevent Republican Gov. Rick Snyder from enacting laws similar to those passed in the nearby states that restrict union rights. According to Gregory Saltzman, an economics professor at Albion University and a public health lecturer at the University.
However, Saltzman said he believes Snyder currently has no plans to suggest such a controversial piece of legislation.
“I do think Michigan is a state where labor unions are stronger than average in the United States,” Saltzman said. “Governor Snyder has specifically said he doesn’t want to stir up a hornet’s nest by having legislation like Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana had … essentially this constitutional amendment maintains the status quo.”
LSA senior Rachel Jankowski, the chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said Snyder has displayed a willingness to cooperate with unions in a way that would make the proposed amendment an unnecessary preventative measure.
“In his first two years in office he’s shown he’s very willing to work with unions to ensure they’re still getting the benefits but also working on reforming our government,” Jankowski said.
LSA senior Lauren Coffman, the communications director of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said she feels the collective bargaining amendment is a necessary addition to the state constitution.
“As Democrats, we believe it’s important that workers who protect and serve Michiganders are given the opportunity to negotiate for fair pay and safe working conditions,” Coffman said. “Unions really serve as the backbone of the state of Michigan from the auto industry to our wonderful University hospitals to our schools.”
Last year many University students turned their attention to collective bargaining rights when the state Court of Appeals upheld a law that banned Graduate Student Research Assistants from unionizing. Saltzman said Proposal 2 would likely incorporate GSRAs, effectively overturning the current restriction.
Under current law, tenured faculty at universities may collectively bargain. However, unlike institutions such as Eastern Michigan University and Wayne State University, University of Michigan faculty have not exercised these rights, according to Saltzman.
In a legal memo to Snyder examining the implications of Proposal 2, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette predicted the amendment would repeal more than 170 existing laws on collective bargaining.
Jankowski said she fears the repeal of these laws that she deems necessary for economic health.
“Unions already have a lot of power in the state,” Jankowski said. “It would basically give unprecedented power to the unions and union bosses and so I think that it takes too much power and puts it in the hands of the wrong people.”
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) supports the law, and said he feels collective bargaining laws are critical to improving workplace conditions and have been beneficial to working and middle class American families.
“What’s happened in the last few years in the Legislature is really horrible for working families and for individuals who work for a living and want to protect their rights in the workplace environment,” Irwin said.
State Representative Mark Ouimet (R–Ann Arbor) did not respond to requests for comment.
In a video statement released on Oct. 12, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley called the amendment a backward solution with an economic burden that would cost taxpayers an estimated $1 billion while establishing a “fourth branch of governmnt.”
“Any agreement (unions) make would overrule or cannot be affected by state law,” Calley said in the video. “This would not work in the interest of kids we protect with some aspects of state law, or the elderly, or in some cases even employees themselves and the rights they have enshrined in state law today,” Calley said.
In a telephone poll released on Oct. 15 by Baydoun Consulting, about 40 percent of individuals sampled were in favor of the law, approximately 42 percent were against it and 16 percent were undecided.