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Michigan Unions Protest Ballot Gag Order

DETROIT (CN) — Five unions have filed a federal complaint over a new law embraced by Michigan Republicans that bans unions from using general funds to support political candidates.

"Under PA 269 unions are now disqualified from using the most effective means of political fundraising, while corporations remain free to employ it," the April 22 complaint states.

Often called the "PAC check-off," payroll deduction "is by far the most effective and widely used method for giving financial support to their union's political advocacy," the complaint states.

PA 269 banned the practice, however, as soon as Gov. Rick Snyder signed it into law this past January.

Led by the Michigan State AFL-CIO, the unions say lawmakers tacked the change on as "a surprise, last-minute addition" to a bill that would have otherwise made routine amendments to the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

Pushed through "at the very end of last year's legislative session," the bill "passed both houses, without hearings and with little debate, in a single session that lasted well into the night," according to the complaint.

The unions say there is almost no precedent for such "high-speed law making."

"This is a hell of a way to start out the Christmas holiday," Sen. Coleman Young said in the marathon session that erupted on Dec. 16, as quoted in the complaint. "First you wipe all our staff off the floor, then you cut off debate, and now we are voting on this corporate takeover.

"I thought we were a government of the people, for the people, and by the people," he continued. "Now after this bill, we are going to be a government of the corporation, for the corporation, and by the corporation. This is ridiculous. ... No one read this bill; no one knows what is in it. It might as well be Peggy Bundy's mystery meat, because nobody knows what this bill does or what it is."

Corporations and trade associations can continue using PAC check-off for their own funds, but PA 269 makes it "a felony for a corporation to administer PAC check-off for its employees' contributions to their union's [fund]," according to the complaint.

The unions say "there is no credible rationale for the Legislature's discriminatory and precipitous action."

"The political agenda behind PA 269, which passed along party lines, was obvious to all," the 28-page complaint states, going on to quote one article whose source called the revisions "a 'head shot'' to organized labor and the Democratic political candidates they support."

Another passage of the complaint quotes Sen. Steve Bieda as saying the bill that brought PA 269 into effect had started "pretty good" but "turned into something totally different."

With the 2016 election campaign season fully underway, the unions say they need an injunction "to preserve their constitutional rights to participate in this election. "

"It violates the Constitution on a number of points, it selectively discriminates against unions, and it violates our contract clause," Zack Pohl, a spokesman for the Michigan State AFL-CIO, said in an interview.

Since many unions put PAC check-off agreements in their contracts with employers, PA 269 is forcing such union employers into breaching their contracts, according to the complaint.

The unions' complaint over PA 269 is in strong company.

Back in February, a lawsuit by 18 Michigan mayors and school superintendents led Judge John Corbett O'Meara to enjoin part of PA 269 that banned elected and appointed officials from telling voters factual information within 60 days of an election.

"We are pleased to see that the court did take action regarding the ban on elected and appointed officials," Pohl said. "We hope they do the same here. We are asking that the court do the right thing and issue a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction."

Johnson and Schuette's offices both declined to comment on this case.

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