GRAND RAPIDS — The West Michigan Chamber Coalition has agreed to oppose the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative and is encouraging members and citizens to vote “No” on the ballot proposal in November.
Jeanne Englehart, president of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chambers representing Grand Rapids, Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg, Holland and Muskegon all have agreed that the initiative is detrimental to the state.
“We believe that it would prevent many useful and effective diversity practices and jeopardize the gender gap as well,” Englehart said. “With these unintended consequences, it would greatly hurt Michigan.”
The ballot initiative, which asks to “ban Affirmative Action programs that give preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes,” is more complicated than it appears, Englehart said.
“People interpret this as being a racial, black-and-white issue, and it’s not,” she said. “Anyone that has any kind of public funding for their program based on gender would be in jeopardy.”
Englehart gave as examples a shelter for battered women that is not open to men, and gender-specific research such as studies on breast or prostate cancers, both of which might not qualify for funding under the proposed legislative change. Englehart said she was especially concerned about programs for women and girls.
“This is going to roll back a lot of the progress we’ve made — and we still have so far to go,” she said.
Englehart said the chamber has been active in helping to educate people about its position and the initiative, holding public forums for its members and making presentations.
“We have a very active network of volunteers who are willing to go out and make presentations to any group who would like to have it,” she said.
The coalition stated in a press release that it has “concluded that the MCRI proposal is misleading in both its name and change, and damaging to the attraction of a highly skilled work force.”
For that reason, educating and informing chamber members has been important, Englehart said.
“The way it’s written, it’s so misleading,” she said of the proposal.