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Emergency manager law opponents, armed with petitions, head to Lansing

Opponents of Michigan’s emergency manager law will descend on Lansing with petitions Wednesday.

The coalition fighting Public Act 4 says they’ve collected more than 218,000 signatures to put the measure up for voter referendum in November.

They need the state to certify about 161,000 of those signatures for that to happen—and for the law to be suspended until the vote.

Unions—particularly the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)—have been a key part of the referendum push. Public Act 4 lets emergency managers throw out collectively-bargained union contracts.

At a really in Detroit Tuesday, Lee Saunders, AFSCME’s national Secretary-Treasurer, says Michigan’s law is just one part of a national campaign to undermine unions and democracy.

“This is a coordinated attack, by ultra-conservatives all over this country,” Saunders boomed over loud applause. “To silence unions, to silence your voices, to steal your freedoms, to take your rights away. And I am telling you, we can’t let them do it.”

The law’s opponents say they’ll remain vigilant even after the petitions are submitted. 

Brandon Jessup heads the group Michigan Forward, which coordinated the petition effort.

At a rally in Detroit Tuesday, Jessup said they expect many signatures will be challenged—and issued a warning they’ll be monitoring the signature-verifying process.

“Hey, Governor Snyder--we know what you want to do with these petitions,” Jessup said. “Hands off. Hands off of our democracy.”

The law’s critics call emergency managers “local dictators” who undermine democratic principles. They also argue that emergency managers don’t have a good track of actually turning around financially strapped cities.

But Governor Snyder and other state officials say the law is necessary to prevent a cascade of municipal bankruptcies that could be catastrophic for the state—especially if Detroit falls.

Snyder and State Treasurer Andy Dillon have also suggested that if the law is suspended, they’ll work to pass similar “back-up legislation” to subvert the referendum process.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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