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Rumors of UAW Pres. Bob King Swapping Ballot Measure Support with an Anti-Union Bridge Owner Have Michiganders Confused

A complicated labor matter is playing out in Michigan where residents are preparing to cast their votes on a set of ballot initiatives that will determine the state’s political future. UAW President Bob King’s reluctance to state a position on Proposition 6 — which would require voter approval for any bridge that connects Michigan to Canada — has labor leaders confused. Proposition 6 was set up to derail Governor Rick Snyder’s plans to build a bridge from Detroit to Windsor.

Unions have been quick to support Snyder’s bridge as it will create nearly 10,000 construction jobs and help auto companies move goods more efficiently to and from Canada. Much of the support for the anti-bridge measure has come from Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun and his political group The People Should Decide. Much is at stake for Moroun whose family owns the Ambassador Bridge and currently has a monopoly on bridges to and from Canada.

Starting last weekend, rumors began to swirl that UAW President Bob King and Matty Moroun had been working behind the scenes to craft a deal where the UAW bucks its fellow unions and supports Proposition 6 in exchange for Moroun pouring money into the union-backed Proposition 2 initiative that would enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state’s constitution. Cries of “2 for 6” rang out in the community and press, but King’s peers pushed back:

“I am shocked,” said Canadian Auto Workers President Ken Lewenza, who was planning to call King on Friday for clarification. “Until I talk to Bob, I won’t believe it.”

Lewenza said the New International Trade Crossing “is the most significant infrastructure project in Canadian history. The CAW supports the bridge.”

The bridge would help create jobs for union members in both Michigan and Canada and according to Mike Jackson, executive secretary-treasurer of the 14,000-member Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, “seemed like a no-brainer to us.” Yet this rumored deal would go against fellow unions in exchange for support for the union backed collective bargaining initiative. In this regard, people don’t know what to make of the rumors as King is, after all, fighting for a pro-labor measure no matter what.

The problem is, if the rumor is true it could tarnish the legitimacy of Proposition 2 allowing the Right to claim that backroom union deals led to its approval. Second, even if Proposition 6 passes it may not have an effect on Snyder’s proposed bridge as much of the initial investment is coming from the Canadian government.

As John Gallagher pointed out in the Detroit Free Press, for Moroun the passage of Proposition 6 would allow him to tangle up the new International Trade Crossing in the legal system. It would likely not prevent the bridge from being built, however:

Because Canada would be paying the estimated $2.1-billion cost of the new crossing, it’s unclear whether the constitutional amendment contained in Proposal 6 against spending state funds without a statewide vote would affect building it.

When monumental legal issues and big bucks are at stake, count on lawyers and judges to have to settle the resulting mess. Moroun has a long record — mostly unsuccessful — of challenging efforts to build a new international bridge. But even delays work to his advantage by extending his monopoly on bridge traffic over the Detroit River.

New polling shows that Michigan residents are split on both Proposition 2 and 6. Proposition 2, which would guarantee collective bargaining rights, currently has 43.2% of Michigan residents supporting it with 41.8% against it. 15 percent are still undecided. If trends go along party lines the likely high turnout of Democrats voting for President Obama could be an environment in which Proposition 2 could pass without any Moroun help.

Proposition 6 currently has 45.3% approving and 43.2% opposed, 11.5% remain undecided. Prop 6 has less momentum going into the November election, however. Pundits say it is poorly worded and could lead to needing voter approval on many more state projects:

Proposal 6 defines an international bridge or tunnel as “any bridge or tunnel which was not open and serving traffic as of January 1, 2012.”

Calley (Lt. Gov. Brian Calley) contends that the ballot definition should have included the word “international” as in “any international bridge or tunnel.” As written now, he said, it seems to require a statewide and local vote before the state could spend money on any bridge or tunnel in Michigan.

If that interpretation stands, transportation planners would need state and local voters at the next general election to approve virtually any highway work involving a bridge or tunnel.

Tuesday morning, Mickey Blashfield of the Moroun camp dismissed the rumors:

“preposterous…none of this is true…there is no will not happen.”

Moroun runs in the Koch Brothers circle and is typically fiercely anti-union, hence the outrage at the rumor of cahoots with King. Proposition 2 is being attacked via the airwaves by groups funded by many of Moroun’s peers.

On Saturday, King claimed he had a neutral stance on Proposition 6. This represented a complete change in stance from what he said in a June letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood:

“This important project will create many thousands of well-paid construction jobs and additional spin-off jobs during construction,” reads King’s letter, posted publicly on the Federal Highway Administration’s website Monday. “Completion of the (NITC) will assure adequate border mobility for the auto industry for many decades into the future.”

Tuesday, though, King answered the rumors saying, “The UAW has always been in favor of construction of a new bridge for the reasons stated in the letter … but has concerns.” Those newfound concerns mirror closely the talking points of Moroun’s Proposition 6 propaganda campaign. King is now apparently worried about where the steel and workers will come from for the bridge project, something raised in pro-Prop 6 commercials.

Moroun, through his group the People Should Decide, has spent an estimated $10 million-plus on TV ads bashing the bridge while opponents of Proposal 6 have spent little.

Moroun-sponsored TV ads have suggested that Chinese steel could be used to construct Snyder’s bridge. In one particular ad, a man sitting in a café says, “Did you hear, they just cut a deal to be able to build it with foreign workers and foreign steel? Just like that bridge out in San Francisco.”

Canadian Steel is likely to be used, though. This makes sense being that the Canadian Government put up $2.1 billion for the project:

On Monday, Snyder along with Canadian Consul General Roy Norton said only U.S. or Canadian steel would be used and criticized Moroun’s ads as misleading. “The governments of Canada and Michigan have repeatedly made clear that there will only be U.S. or Canadian-made steel in the project,” Norton said.

This plan is being endorsed by other unions.

Snyder’s request for a steel waiver has the support of a number of unions, including the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and the United Steelworkers.

“The United Steelworkers strongly support the use of both American-made iron and steel and Canadian-made iron and steel to build a new bridge crossing over the Detroit River linking Michigan to Windsor, Canada,” United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said in a statement submitted to the FHWA.

It is hard, in the face of the available information, not to be concerned about King’s activity. It would behoove the well-respected, well-liked leader to clarify where he and his union stand to rid the air of the dirty Moroun talk. Stay tuned…


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