Truth Squad issues warning over ad opposing union ballot proposals

Who: Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution

What: "Auction" - radio/Web ad

Truth Squad call: Warning

This ad comes from Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, a group based out of the offices of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and formed to advocate against a variety of constitutional amendments headed for Michigan’s November ballot. The largest contributors to the group have been the state chamber, the Small Business Association of Michigan and the Michigan Manufacturers Association.

The ad begins: "Going once, going twice, Michigan's constitution sold to the union bosses for $8 million. It should disgust every Michigan citizen. Union bosses are ready to spend tens of millions to buy pieces of your constitution.

"Think about it: Wealthy interest groups trying to grab more money and power, not just trying to pass laws, but amending the constitution permanently, on labor issues, energy policy and home health care, with confusing, complicated schemes packed with costly unintended consequences.

"You should say no. No, no, no. Don't let them cash in on your constitution. Tell the union bosses to keep their millions in their pocket, and keep their hands off our constitution."

Questionable statement: "Going once, going twice, Michigan's constitution sold to the union bosses for $8 million.

The ad aims at three ballot proposals: one to ensure workers the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively, a measure to allow home health care workers to engage in limited collective bargaining and a proposal to require Michigan utilities to obtain 25 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025.

But it is most squarely targeted at the collective bargaining proposal backed by Protect Our Jobs, a collection of state and national labor interests that raised more than $8 million as of July 27. Major contributors include the AFL-CIO ($1,250,000), United Auto Workers ($1 million), the Michigan Education Association ($500,000), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ($500,000) , Teamsters ($333,334) and Professional Staff Association of East Lansing ($300,000).

Questionable statement: "... wealthy interest groups trying to grab more money and power, not just trying to pass laws, but amending the constitution permanently, on labor issues ..."

The stakes for Michigan labor in a constitutionally guaranteed right to bargain are considerable. Public bargaining rights have been curtailed in neighboring Wisconsin. Indiana in February passed a Right to Work law that bars mandatory participation in a union or payment of dues as a condition of employment. It is the first Rust Belt state to do so. Though Gov. Rick Snyder has declined to push the issue, conservative forces in the Legislature have pressed the discussion.

Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution is itself a creature of the business community, seldom considered a friend to labor. Given their financial resources, both sides could be considered "wealthy interest groups."

The ballot proposal for a Renewable Energy Standard would require Michigan utilities to obtain 25 percent of their electricity by 2025 from renewable energy sources. Utilities are now mandated to obtain 10 percent of their electricity from such sources by 2015.

It is backed Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs, which raised more than $2.2 million. It is funded by environmental groups  including the Green Tech Action Fund of San Francisco, which gave $1,342,000, the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund of New York, which gave $450,000, and the Michigan League of Conservation Voters of Ann Arbor, which gave $275,000.

It is opposed by Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition, which raised nearly $6 million. DTE Energy and Consumers Energy donated nearly $5.8 million in total.

A utility-backed study asserted that the state's current renewable plan is working, while critics of the ballot plan say it would cost $10 billion to implement and limit use of new technologies. Proponents say the proposal will create 56,000 jobs and spark more than $10 billion in investment.

Questionable statement: "… and home health care, with confusing, complicated schemes packed with costly unintended consequences."

The ballot proposal on home health care is backed by Citizens for Affordable Quality Home Care, which has raised more than $1.8 million. It lists the same address as the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition. It would re-establish a state registry, called the Michigan Quality Home Care Council, that would pre-screen home health care providers serving Medicaid recipients. Providers could engage in limited collective bargaining with the council, but would not be state employees.

This political fight began after the Service Employees International Union gained the right in 2006 to represent some 40,000 home health care workers -- many of them the parents of disabled children -- as state employees and collect union dues. Earlier this year, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill that declared home health care workers ineligible to unionize. A federal judge in June issued an injunction, allowing the union to continue.

Overall impression: The ad correctly states the financial contributions of union interests in the ballot proposal to add constitutional backing to the right to bargain and organize. Labor stands to gain if such a measure passes. By the same token, opponents of the measure would benefit by its defeat at the polls.

It is correct that locking in such rights to the constitution would have long-term consequences. So would a constitutionally mandated renewable energy policy and bargaining rights for home health care workers. It is debatable whether the proposals are simply about "wealthy interest groups trying to grab more money and power."

Foul or no foul: Warning. The ad is accurate about union contributions to the proposal to ensure bargaining rights. However, the charge of "wealthy interest groups" could be applied just as easily to the critics of the ballot measures as the proponents. Both sides have raised millions of dollars to advance their political agenda.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Big D
Thu, 08/09/2012 - 9:22am
Fine. When you have to summarize a position for a 30 second ad, you end up generalizing and being metaphorical. I contend that Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution may have poorly picked their metaphor, but that it is fairly accurate. Meanwhile, the powers they oppose are actually concealing huge consequences (unintended??) of their proposals, on purpose. It would appear that even Bridge has been duped. Right.
Nancy Shiffler
Thu, 08/09/2012 - 10:13am
In many cases these initiatives are designed to counteract actions by the legislature which also have long term hidden negative consequences, both intended and unintended.
Bob Spletzer
Thu, 08/09/2012 - 10:19am
Several years ago there were four proposals on the ballot to change the Michigan Constitution. Our legislative committee addressed the issue and we put our thoughts in print in our local paper. Our stance was the proper place for most changes in law was through the legislative process. Changes to the Constitution should be extremely rare or through a Constitutional Convention where serious thought and analysis can determine if any change to the Constitution is warranted. Voters can easily be swayed through 30 second sound bites which may or may not be accurate. This is not the way to change our Constitution. Or we could wind up like California which a few years ago had over 50 proposals on their ballot to change their Constitution. Again, that is not the proper way to govern.
Rob Fowler
Thu, 08/09/2012 - 11:26am
Here is a dose of perspective that gives context to who is the deep pocket "wealthy" interest group here. The Small Business Assn of Michigan put in $30,000 as one of the largest contributors. AFL-CIO= $1.25 mill. UAW= $1 mill. MEA $500,000. $30k is a DEEP dig for us at SBAM and small businesses generally will not be able to buy public opinion like labor will. Just sayin...
Gary Flinn
Thu, 08/09/2012 - 12:12pm
I noticed that they were strangely silent regarding Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun's The People Should Decide campaign. When I asked them about their silence about Moroun's campaign, they blocked me from posting on their FB page. So that makes the people behind Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution total hypocrites.
Jim Zielske
Sat, 08/11/2012 - 9:06am
"Protect our Jobs" ....a second mortgage on our childrens future. I would encourage everyone to vote yes!