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LIVONIA – The Michigan State AFL-CIO announced its formal opposition to Proposal 2, the so-called “marriage amendment,” Oct. 6, making it the latest union in Michigan to come out against the proposal. It is also the largest, with over 600,000 members in its 59 affiliate unions being urged to vote NO on 2.
In a press conference announcing their opposition to Proposal 2, Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney said that the AFL-CIO opposes the measure because it would take away benefits that have already been negotiated into union contracts.
“It is an anti-collective bargaining ballot proposal,” said David Hecker, president of the Michigan Federation of Teachers and School Related Personnel. “If Proposal 2 passes it means language in our contracts that allows for domestic partner benefits for same or opposite sex couples would be negated, or if one of our locals wanted to bargain for that language they wouldn’t be able to,” he said. “Also, we have a long history of fighting discrimination and just the thought of putting discrimination into the Michigan Constitution is appalling to us.”
The Michigan Federation of Teachers and School Related Personnel, AFT, AFL-CIO announced its formal opposition to Proposal 2 Aug. 31, making it the first union to do so and putting it ahead of the statewide AFL-CIO of which it is a part. The MFT&SRP is a union of 35,000 members working in K-12 and intermediate school districts, community colleges and universities and local government, with 93 locals.
In addition, the Michigan Education Association announced its formal opposition Sept. 22. MEA represents more than 160,000 public school employees statewide, including K-12 teachers and support staff, and faculty and staff at institutions of higher education.
Existing benefits being taken away is a primary concern for Hecker. “In addition to being anti-collective bargaining and discriminatory, this is going to result, if it passes, in people, including children, losing their health benefits, and I can’t imagine anyone supporting a ballot proposal that takes away health care from a child,” he said.
Wendy Howell, campaign manager for the Coalition for a Fair Michigan, said she is happy to have the unions on board.
“We think it’s great and it shows this amendment really has some far-reaching effects that people are taking notice of and are really concerned by,” she said.
“It’s really important because we know that 43 percent of voters in the 2000 election came from union households in Michigan, so they represent a huge chunk of the electorate and have a lot of influence over the election,” said Howell. “We also know that union members are incredibly persuadable. No matter how they feel about same-sex marriage, when they hear that this limits their ability to negotiate for the benefits included in their union contracts they will vote no.”
Howell continued, “As a former labor organizer I can tell you, completely separate from any other issue, unions do not like being told what they can and cannot bargain for. They believe that’s a decision that should be made between workers and employers. Proposal 2 is a direct attack on union contracts.”
The Proposal isn’t just about marriage, as its backers claim, and its far-reaching implications are fueling opposition. Hecker said, “Regardless of any individual’s thoughts on gay marriage, even if someone is against gay marriage, this is an anti-collective bargaining ballot proposal and it’s a direct attack on all unions.”
Hecker said that he was personally opposed to the amendment from the beginning and moved immediately to get the union to weigh in. “I sent out a memo to our statewide board because we didn’t meet in the summer and it was important to have a decision as soon as possible so we could have a big impact with the decision, and I asked them to respond and vote and they voted overwhelmingly to oppose it.”
Although backers of the ballot proposal argue that domestic partner benefits will not be impacted by the amendment, opponents need only look to the Ann Arbor Public School District, which was sued in Sept. 2003 by the Thomas More Law Center over its domestic partner benefits policy. The suit claimed that by offering benefits to same-sex couples the District was in violation of state laws against marriages for same-sex couples.
Ann Arbor continues to offer the benefits, as do other districts including Tri County Area Schools, a small district in Kent County. The Grand Rapids Press reported Oct. 3 that Tri County leaders weren’t even aware of a clause in their contract that allows for the benefits until the MEA identified them as one of six districts in the state that would be impacted by Proposal 2.