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Michigan battleground: Unions push to protect rights at the ballot box

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As the battle shifts to Michigan, labor unions have already committed $8 million to the bid to shield their collective bargaining power from further legislative rollbacks, known as "Protect Our Jobs."

The ballot effort is a “preemptive strike” by unions to make sure that “Wisconsin and Ohio don’t come to Michigan,” says Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. 

“Unions are seeing that they have to get this into the legislation while they can, because things can get a lot worse,” he says, citing the protracted court battles and advocacy spending on both sides in other Midwest states. “They want to inoculate themselves from further harm and are trying to frame [union rights] in such a way [that] it becomes very difficult for their political opponent to fight it.”

Besides enshrining collective bargaining rights in the Michigan constitution, the initiative will also forbid future legislative attempts to make Michigan a “right to work” state. “Right to work” laws, now in effect in 23 states, prevent unions from requiring nonunion workers to pay membership dues for representation, which supporters say creates a friendlier business climate that encourages job creation. Opponents say it's a veiled way to cripple union power.

The union coalition backing the proposal says it collected more than 700,000 signatures to qualify it for the ballot, more than double the required amount. Among the unions in support of the measure are the Michigan Nurses Association, the Michigan chapters of the AFL-CIO, and the United Auto Workers.

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