Earlier today, the Michigan House passed a so-called “right-to-work” law. The anti-union legislation, which permits workers to benefit from the high salaries gained through collective bargaining without contributing to the union that negotiates those higher salaries for them, will cost both union and non-union workers an estimated $1,500 a year in wages, in addition to costing thousands of Michiganders health benefits and pensions.
Anti-union lawmakers attached a budget appropriation to the bill in order to thwart efforts to repeal it by referendum — the Michigan Constitution provides that “[t]he power of referendum does not extend to acts making appropriations for state institutions or to meet deficiencies in state funds.” This is not the end of the story, however. Under that same constitution, Michigan voters may still restore the lost wages and collective bargaining power denied by this bill through a state ballot initiative:
The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws and to enact and reject laws, called the initiative, and the power to approve or reject laws enacted by the legislature, called the referendum. The power of initiative extends only to laws which the legislature may enact under this constitution. The power of referendum does not extend to acts making appropriations for state institutions or to meet deficiencies in state funds and must be invoked in the manner prescribed by law within 90 days following the final adjournment of the legislative session at which the law was enacted. To invoke the initiative or referendum, petitions signed by a number of registered electors, not less than eight percent for initiative and five percent for referendum of the total vote cast for all candidates for governor at the last preceding general election at which a governor was elected shall be required.
No law as to which the power of referendum properly has been invoked shall be effective thereafter unless approved by a majority of the electors voting thereon at the next general election.
By attaching the appropriations provision to the anti-union bill, its supporters accomplished two things: they increased the number of signatures necessary to place it before the voters, and they guaranteed that, if enacted, it will be in effect at least until it can be repealed in the next general election. Nevertheless, Michigan voters are far from powerless. In the last Michigan gubernatorial election, voters cast a total of 3,226,088 votes. So workers and their allies will need to collect just under 260,000 signatures to place a repeal initiative on the ballot.