Michigan court sides with backers of pro-union initiative

Mon Aug 27, 2012 8:11pm EDT

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(Reuters) - The Michigan Court of Appeals on Monday ordered state officials to put a voter initiative that would enshrine the right to collective bargaining in the state constitution on the November 6 ballot.

Opponents of the union-backed proposal, who include the attorney general, said an appeal would be filed quickly to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The measure, known as the "Protect Our Jobs" initiative, would make collective bargaining a constitutionally protected right in Michigan and cripple efforts to pass so-called "right to work" legislation in the state.

A coalition including the AFL-CIO labor federation, the United Auto Workers and the Michigan Education Association submitted petitions with nearly 700,000 signatures -- twice the number needed -- to get the measure on the ballot.

But a deadlocked state Board of Canvassers voted earlier this month to keep the proposal off the November ballot because of complaints backers failed to explain to petition signers or prospective voters how the proposal would affect other aspects of the state constitution.

On Monday, the Michigan Appeals Court sided with the unions. In a 2-to-1 ruling, the court said "Protect Our Jobs" backers had told petition signers all they needed to under the law. The court ordered the State Board of Canvassers "to take all necessary measure to place the proposal on the November ballot."

Supporters of the measure say it is needed to combat what they characterize as an attack on workers' rights that is eating away at wages, health care benefits, retirement security and safety protections in the state.

Critics say the measure, which would cover private as well as public employees, would be a "death warrant" for Michigan's economy because it would discourage businesses from bringing new jobs to the state and encourage some already there to leave.

Protect Working Families, one of the groups backing the measure, welcomed Monday's ruling. It said the decision by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General William Schuette -- both Republicans -- to side with opponents of the proposal was "faulty and politically motivated."

"No Michigan governor or attorney general has ever taken such drastic action to prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote," the group said in its statement.

Joy Yearout, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Schuette, said she expected that Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution, the coalition of business groups opposed to "Protect Our Jobs," would appeal Monday's decision to the state Supreme Court and that Schuette would back the appeal.

Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder, said the first-term governor remained opposed to the initiative because "it has potentially far-reaching implications and ramifications to numerous existing statutes that would turn back progress and appear to go well beyond what paid petition gatherers portrayed."

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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