Labor tries new tactic after setbacks in Michigan
unions are working to protect collective bargaining power
Opponents contend the constitutional measure, which would cover both public and private employees, would make union leaders more powerful than elected officials. Schuette says it would impose "breathtaking" rollbacks of state and local governments' ability to set employment terms and get budgets under control, wiping out some 170 laws and even invalidating other parts of the constitution.
Supporters say that is a dramatic overstatement. "It doesn't repeal a single law," said Dan Lijana, spokesman for Protect Working Families. He pointed to a state appeals court opinion saying the legislature would still maintain its lawmaking power.
No one knows what the proposed amendment's ripple effects would be, said Gary Francis, a Bloomfield Hills attorney who represents management clients in dealings with labor.
"It would be fought out on a case-by-case basis over a number of years," as contracts expired and lawsuits were filed, Francis said.
That hasn't stopped either side from offering its own interpretations. A pro-amendment ad features a firefighter wearing a special air pack. His voice muffled by a face mask, he explains that it's an example of gear that unions obtain through negotiations "to protect your lives and ours."
Opposition ads charge the amendment could prevent schools from firing employees with criminal records, limit use of background checks for school employees and abolish safety standards for school bus drivers.
Critics also say the initiative continues a trend toward cluttering state constitutions with policies that should be hashed out by legislatures and governors.
Given the high stakes, the union movement considers that a price worth paying.
"Labor is on the defensive," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Insitute, a liberal research and policy organization in Washington, D.C. "This could very well be a turning point if the people of Michigan affirm collective bargaining."