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Mich. Voters Defeat 2 Organized Labor Ballot Issues


Michigan voters this week threw their support to President Obama and re-elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. Support from unions played a big role in those Democratic victories. But voters also dealt organized labor some significant losses in this traditionally union-friendly state.

Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta reports.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Unions poured millions of dollars into ballot campaigns to guarantee collective bargaining rights in the Michigan constitution and allow state-paid home care assistants to organize into a union. Both were resoundingly defeated.

ZACK POHL: People ultimately just decided that they didn't support amending the constitution this year.

PLUTA: Zack Pohl is with Progress Michigan, part of the coalition supporting the amendments. Pohl blames big spending by corporate-backed opposition groups for the defeat.

But Republican Governor Rick Snyder has a different take. He says one of the proposals would have rolled back 170 labor laws.

GOVERNOR RICK SNYDER: This stuff didn't belong in Michigan's constitution largely, and then beyond that, it was bad public policy in many cases.

PLUTA: But the defeat also raised the prospect that Michigan could - like its neighbor Indiana did this year - become a right-to-work state that allows workers to opt out of joining a union and paying dues. Snyder says he hopes that doesn't happen because it would roil labor relations and foment a lot of discord. But he also refuses to promise he'd veto a bill if it reaches his desk. That has labor leaders nervous after Tuesday's mixed bag for unions.

BILL BALLENGER: I thought organized labor didn't suffer a total defeat.

PLUTA: Bill Ballenger is the editor and publisher of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics. He says a lot of people will focus on those two ballot questions.

BALLENGER: But it wasn't a total disaster for organized labor.

PLUTA: Ballenger says that's because Michigan voters also handed labor one for the win column.

In a referendum, they toppled one of the very first laws signed by Governor Snyder last year. It gave sweeping authority to local government managers appointed after the state takes over a financially troubled city or school district. One of those powers that voters said no to is throwing out a union contract.

For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta in Lansing, Michigan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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