Michigan high court allows pro-union measure on November ballot

Thu Sep 6, 2012 2:53am IST

Stocks

   

(Reuters) - Michigan voters may decide in November whether to enshrine a right to collective bargaining in the state's constitution, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday, in a victory for labor unions in the state that is home to major auto companies.

The ruling allows the measure to be placed on the November 6 ballot and marks the latest showdown between organized labor, Republicans and business groups that have sought limits on collective bargaining.

The measure, backed by organized labor, asks Michigan voters to decide whether collective bargaining of labor contracts should be a right guaranteed by the state constitution.

The state's Republican governor and attorney general argued that the proposed referendum would have serious implications for a host of other laws and was too complex to explain on the ballot.

But the state high court said supporters of the measure met the requirements of Michigan law for placing it on the ballot for the November general election.

No further appeals are expected, said F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative Michigan economic policy think tank that opposed the measure.

"Right now, it's with the voters," Vernuccio said. "They can vote for it and give Michigan to the special interests ... or against and leave the power where it should be, with the state's elected representatives." Vernuccio said the initiative would give "union bosses" more power than legislators and elected officials.

A coalition of unions submitted petitions with nearly 700,000 signatures, twice the number needed, to get the measure on the ballot. The coalition included the AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers and the Michigan Education Association.

Critics have argued the measure would discourage businesses from bringing jobs to the state and encourage some to leave.

Angelique Peterson, a member of UAW Local 245 in Dearborn, Michigan, called collective bargaining "a basic right for working families."

"We will fight for it and win in November," Peterson said in a statement.

Only a few states, including Florida and Missouri, protect union activity like collective bargaining in the state constitution. Twenty-three states have "right-to-work" laws that prohibit employers from requiring workers to pay fees for union representation.

Earlier this year, Indiana adopted a right-to-work law and Wisconsin voters chose to retain Republican Governor Scott Walker in a special election after opponents had pressed to recall him over his successful efforts to press legislation curbing the powers of some public sector unions in that state.

Vernuccio said the Michigan ballot measure, if approved, would make it "legislatively impossible" for Michigan to become a right-to-work state without another constitutional amendment.

(Reporting By Greg McCune, Mary Wisniewski and David Bailey; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Stacey Joyce)