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Political roundup: Why do the powers of state commissions vary?

Sep 22, 2017

This week the Michigan Civil Service Commission unilaterally restricted state labor union workers' rights.

Emily Lawler for MLive reports:

“The rule changes prohibit some issues as subjects of collective bargaining and take away specific provisions unions have negotiated for around bumping, overtime scheduling, and transfers. They also restrict the paid union leave time state employees are able to use to work on union issues.”

And Civil Service Commissioner and former House Speaker Jase Bolger said this about the decision:

“We heard the examples of the silliness of seniority where somebody’s time serving with the state in a different capacity wouldn’t be counted just because they didn’t belong to that union, so I think this improves the process and ultimately is more responsible for taxpayers."

Hundreds of union members and some past state officials argued against it, saying it just wasn’t right to change things that were negotiated in good faith. But, the commission made a decision, changed the rules, and that was that.

Also this week, another commission — the Michigan Civil Rights Commission — held a public hearing after weeks of work on whether protections against sex discrimination apply to LGBT people.

Rick Pluta, Michigan Radio’s Lansing bureau chief, reported the Civil Rights Commission was going to proceed toward a ruling, but a lawyer for Attorney General Bill Schuette stopped the proceedings, saying it’s a matter for the Legislature to decide. And again, that was that. 

Vicki Barnett, a former Mayor of Farmington Hills and a former Democratic legislator, and Ken Sikkema, Senior Policy Fellow with Public Sector Consultants and the former Republican majority leader in state Senate, joined Stateside today to explain why one of the commissions seems to have power to change things, but the other does not.

Barnett said it all comes down to how the commissions were established in the state constitution. 

"The Civil Rights Commission is constitutionally charged with investigating crimes of discrimination or accusations of discrimination, and that is their goal and that is their job," Barnett said. "Whereas the Civil Service Commission was established to take out patronage and all kinds of chaos that had been existing in the state employee system."

Every time there was a change of governor, there was a change of massive numbers of employees, and it was designed to facilitate a professional workforce that didn't operate on patronage. And they have the right under the constitution to make the rules regarding employment of state civil service workers, and that's the major difference here."

Listen above to hear the full conversation. 

Ken Sikkema and Vicki Barnett join Stateside every Friday to break down the week’s political news.

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