The Michigan Supreme Court’s narrow decision to put Public Act 4, the Emergency Manager Law, on the November ballot was the right thing to do. But the ruling presents for Mayor Dave Bing – who has publicly declared his opposition to the act – a political dilemma. Will he campaign for its repeal – or its defeat? The law was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by GOP Gov. Rick Snyder. It spawned statewide protests from Big Labor claiming the law deprives citizens of their right to self-determination and illegally voids union contracts.
The issue reached the Michigan Supreme Court after the State Board of Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 on whether to put the question on the ballot after more than 200,000 signatures were gathered. Snyder’s administration contends the EM law is the cornerstone of a successful Detroit consent agreement with the state. But the governor reportedly plans to reinstate the old, weaker statue, which limits the ability of EMs to cancel contracts. Organized labor is elated – and for reasons beyond the city retaining local control of its finances and the destiny of its workers. It doesn’t seem to matter to Big Labor that many union workers might end up with no job at all if Detroit is prevented from offering jobs at wages the government can afford – thus putting the city into bankruptcy. Labor may have a broader objective. A game of power politics will be played out across Michigan this November.
At stake is the ability of unions to deliver a strong vote for President Barack Obama whose weak poll numbers raise doubts about his re-electability. The president’s support is shaky after his policies failed to lead a robust economy. Massive government spending only added to the nation’s debt. Rather than an economic stimulus, we got stagnation. Labor has been Obama’s unwavering political ally. In an act of solidarity, its leaders hope to rally behind the president by persuading their members to become active participants in this election. Organized labor can gain political advantage with such hot button referendums as the repeal of Public Act 4 – and the proposed, union-bankrolled Protect Our Jobs ballot initiative. A large labor-backed turnout, of course, helps Obama. And depending on how the dust settles on Public Act 4, it may be labor – not Mayor Bing – who ultimately controls the city’s political power center. Should he decide to seek reelection next year, labor may be in a power position to field a formidable opposition candidate if Bing is seen as a foe.