Mich. Voters Defeat 2 Organized Labor Ballot Issues

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Unions poured millions of dollars into ballot campaigns to guarantee collective bargaining rights in the Michigan Constitution and allow state-paid home care assistants to organize into a union. Both were resoundingly defeated.

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Michigan voters this week threw their support to President Obama and re-elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate. Support from unions played a big role in those Democratic victories. But voters also dealt organized labor some significant losses in this traditionally union-friendly state.

Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta reports.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Unions poured millions of dollars into ballot campaigns to guarantee collective bargaining rights in the Michigan constitution and allow state-paid home care assistants to organize into a union. Both were resoundingly defeated.

ZACK POHL: People ultimately just decided that they didn't support amending the constitution this year.

PLUTA: Zack Pohl is with Progress Michigan, part of the coalition supporting the amendments. Pohl blames big spending by corporate-backed opposition groups for the defeat.

But Republican Governor Rick Snyder has a different take. He says one of the proposals would have rolled back 170 labor laws.

GOVERNOR RICK SNYDER: This stuff didn't belong in Michigan's constitution largely, and then beyond that, it was bad public policy in many cases.

PLUTA: But the defeat also raised the prospect that Michigan could - like its neighbor Indiana did this year - become a right-to-work state that allows workers to opt out of joining a union and paying dues. Snyder says he hopes that doesn't happen because it would roil labor relations and foment a lot of discord. But he also refuses to promise he'd veto a bill if it reaches his desk. That has labor leaders nervous after Tuesday's mixed bag for unions.

BILL BALLENGER: I thought organized labor didn't suffer a total defeat.

PLUTA: Bill Ballenger is the editor and publisher of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics. He says a lot of people will focus on those two ballot questions.

BALLENGER: But it wasn't a total disaster for organized labor.

PLUTA: Ballenger says that's because Michigan voters also handed labor one for the win column.

In a referendum, they toppled one of the very first laws signed by Governor Snyder last year. It gave sweeping authority to local government managers appointed after the state takes over a financially troubled city or school district. One of those powers that voters said no to is throwing out a union contract.

For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta in Lansing, Michigan.

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