Petitions would put union measure on Mich. ballot

DETROIT (AP) — Backers of a proposal to write collective bargaining rights for workers into the Michigan Constitution on Wednesday submitted more than twice the number of signatures needed to place it on the November ballot, setting up a fierce election-year clash between business and labor.

The Protect Our Jobs Coalition said it submitted petitions with 684,286 signatures to the Michigan Department of State in Lansing. The state now will review the signatures to see that enough are valid.

The required threshold is 322,609 signatures.

"Collective bargaining protects our right to negotiate for fair wages and benefits," Ashley Forsberg, a registered nurse at Sparrow Hospital and a participant in the ballot drive, said in a statement. "It gives us a voice to speak up for safe patient care and protects us from arbitrary behavior by our employers."

The head of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce attacked the plan, calling it a "jobs killer" and a power grab by union leaders.

"Their goal is to impose unionization on every employer and every employee in the state of Michigan," said Richard K. Studley, president and chief executive of the business advocacy group.

He said it would repeal more than 80 "cost-saving reform measures" that the Legislature has approved. Majority Republican lawmakers have made many changes in public employees' benefits since gaining control of state government in the 2010 election.

"This proposal is anti-taxpayer, anti-reform, anti-business," Studley said in a telephone interview. "This is one of the most radical and sweeping and anti-business bills we've seen in years."

"It is apparent that government unions did not learn anything from the Wisconsin recall vote last week," said Vincent Vernuccio, labor policy director for the free-market oriented Mackinac Center. "Once again, they're pursuing policies that will enshrine special privileges for what amounts to just 3 percent of the population at the expense of the rest of us."

The Protect Our Jobs initiative was launched in March. It pushes back against a possible right-to-work movement in Michigan, which seeks to ban labor contracts that mandate payments to unions.

It would add a section to the state constitution guaranteeing a right to "organize together to form, join or assist labor organizations, and to bargain collectively with a public or private employer."

"Collective bargaining lifts up all workers and businesses," said Nayyirah Shariff, a Flint business owner and supporter of the proposal. "Everyone benefits when management and workers can come together and negotiate."

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