Michigan to vote on employment initiatives

Michigan voters will decide the fate of two initiatives in the November 6 election that can change the climate toward collective bargaining and union organization in the state.

One initiative–Proposal 2, dubbed the “Protect our Jobs” proposal–is a union-backed measure asking voters to pass a constitutional amendment guaranteeing workers the right to bargain collectively. If approved, the greatest significance would be to bar any attempt to enact right-to-work legislation. Typically, right-to-work laws prohibit employers from deducting union dues from employee paychecks.

It took a trip to the Michigan Supreme Court just to get the measure on the ballot, but on September 5, the state high court approved putting it before the voters.

Another initiative proposes to amend the state constitution to create a registry of homecare workers and authorize them to unionize and collectively bargain with the Michigan Quality Community Care Council. The proposal appears to be targeted at proposed legislation that would clarify that homecare workers aren’t employees of the Michigan Quality Community Care Council. A law saying they aren’t employees of the council could be used to argue that collective bargaining isn’t available to them.

Both proposals, particularly Proposal 2, are being closely watched and have sparked criticism from employers.

“The fact that these proposals are on the ballot illustrates the concern that the unions have over the threat of a right-to-work law,” says Robert M. Vercruysse of the Vercruysse Murray & Calzone law firm in Bingham Farms, Michigan. “Clearly the experience in Wisconsin, Indiana, and the changes that public employee unions experienced in Michigan mobilized the union forces to try to pass a constitutional prohibition against future legislative change.”

If voted in, both of the proposals would negate existing legislation, including legislation that prohibits public employees from striking, according to William E. Altman, a shareholder at Vercruysse Murray & Calzone.

“Whether you are for or against organized labor, the ideas supported by these proposals can be and have been addressed by legislation,” Altman says. “Legislators can be voted out of office every couple of years. The state constitution is not so easily changed and should not be used to manage the day-to-day functioning of government employment relationships.”

Vercruysse and Altman are editors of Michigan Employment Law Letter, which will provide coverage of the election outcome.