LANSING (Detroit Free Press)-- Organizers of a petition drive to enshrine collective-bargaining rights in the state constitution have put their key players in place as the business community organizes to try to defeat the effort.
The Protect Our Jobs campaign has hired Democratic political consultant Jill Alper of the Dewey Square Group as its chief strategist, veteran legislative aide Ken Brock as its campaign manager, and PCI Consultants of Calabasas, Calif., to help volunteers gather petitions, officials said Wednesday.
If successful, the initiative would prevent enactment of right-to-work legislation, which would make it illegal to require financial support of a union as a condition of employment. The legislation has not yet been introduced in Lansing. It could also invalidate several recently passed laws affecting union dues, how employee benefits are paid for and other issues.
Given the resources of the two sides, the cost of the campaign could easily top $10 million, said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
Protect Our Jobs and Michigan Education Association officials would not confirm reports in the Michigan Populist blog and the Michigan Information and Research Service newsletter that said MEA groups have already chipped in $1.8 million.
"All fund-raising figures will be provided when the campaign finance filings are made," said Dan Lijana, spokesman for Protect Our Jobs.
Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said his group "will do whatever it takes" to defeat the proposal.
"The only jobs this proposal will protect are the union bosses who are bankrolling this effort," he said.
Studley noted that the chamber hasn't taken a position on right-to-work legislation.
But, Lijana said, "Lansing special interests have passed one law after another attacking the middle class to reduce wages, benefits and workplace safety," and the ballot proposal "is the only way to protect (workers) from more of the same."
Costs exceeding $10 million wouldn't be out of line with past ballot-initiative battles. Proponents and opponents of the 2008 stem-cell campaign spent about $9 million and $7 million, respectively. The two sides of a 2004 casino-related initiative spent about $7.8 million and $19.6 million, Robinson said.
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By Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau