Amend this: Michigan labor mulling proposal 

King tells forum of plan to counter emergency managers, right-to-work proposals

In the newest issue of Labor Notes, there's an interesting item involving a behind-the-scenes plan in the works over at the UAW. 

Seems like folks there — and a few other unions as well — are cooking up a little surprise for Gov. Rick Snyder.

According to LN's Jane Slaughter (who also contributes restaurant reviews to this rag), UAW President Bob King let the cat out of the bag during a recent appearance at a forum put on by the University of Michigan's Semester in Detroit Project.

During the event, King was asked why his union hadn't thrown its considerable weight fully behind a proposed ballot measure intended to overturn the state's controversial emergency manager law. Even without a big commitment from the UAW, organizers reportedly have obtained more than enough signatures to let voters decide if they want the state treasurer to continue appointing managers with sweeping powers to oversee financially troubled school districts and other local units of government.

Among other things, the law allows for emergency managers to void contracts with employee unions. The law also enables EMs to remove elected officials and sell off public assets.

Seems like neutering those powers is something the UAW would have been willing to get behind in a big way. As Slaughter points out in her piece (available online at labornotes.org), unions in other states have joined in similar efforts to help protect the rights of working people.

"In Wisconsin, unions were instrumental in gathering more than a million signatures to recall the anti-union governor," Slaughter reports. "In Ohio, they did the same to repeal an anti-collective bargaining law."

So, why not the same sort of vigorous support here in Michigan?

King responded to the question by explaining that organized labor is concerned that, even if the proposed measure makes it to the ballot and voters approve it, there's nothing to prevent the Republican-dominated Legislature from wriggling around the public's will by slightly tweaking the current law and passing some new version. Such a tactic could potentially nullify the whole effort.

As King explained things, a more permanent solution, at least in terms of protecting the rights of organized labor, would be to have voters approve an amendment to the state Constitution that would permanently block right-to-work laws, which undermine the effectiveness of unions, and the ability of emergency managers — or anyone else, for that matter — to negate union contracts. (A right-to-work law has long been favored by some elements of the state GOP, although there's currently no unity on the issue.) Moreover, a constitutional amendment could be used to address the broader issue of emergency managers in general. 

The big news is that leaders of the UAW, AFSCME and other unions have quietly been working on an amendment that would do all that. At least that's what King told people attending the forum. The way we understand it, higher-ups in the unions are trying to figure out exactly how to word the proposed amendment. 

We look forward to seeing what they come up with. 

More by Curt Guyette

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