Commentary
10:42 am
Thu March 8, 2012

Republicans complete action on two anti-union bills

Yesterday, I talked about a major effort the state’s labor unions were launching to counteract what they feel is a major assault on collective bargaining. They are attempting to amend the constitution to make it impossible to take collective bargaining rights away from any group, no matter the circumstances.

Thirty years ago this would have caused the grownups in government to realize they needed to do something to head this off. Government is supposed to be about consensus, and making everybody feel they have a stake in society. Grand Rapids native Arthur Vandenberg, one of the greatest figures in the history of the U.S. Senate, used to say the way you got things done was to ask for twice what you wanted, and then settle for half what you hoped for.

Even when John Engler was governor, the announcement of a major effort by the unions to change the playing field would have been countered strategically, and there would have been a rapid dialing down of anything designed to further inflame tensions.

Not today, however. The Republicans who control the legislature are determined to ram their agenda through, whatever the reaction, and whatever the cost.

Yesterday, they did just that, shoving through a bill making it illegal for school districts to automatically deduct union dues from teachers’ paychecks.  Districts will no longer be able to do this even if they want to, which proves once again that Republicans, are, as they say,  in favor of local control -- except when they are not.

Democrats offered an amendment that would have allowed districts to continue deducting union dues if the union paid the cost of doing so. Republicans stripped that out of the bill too, proving this isn’t about economy, it’s about union-bashing.

They promptly shifted the bill over to the house, which ignored its own rule of waiting to vote on any bill that arrives from the senate for at least one day. Republicans then rammed it through, and when Democrat Kate Segal, the minority floor leader asked to be heard, she was ignored. Not satisfied with this, the Republicans then used what Democrats characterized as a “dirty parliamentary trick,’ to circumvent the rules on another anti-union bill and give it immediate effect, even though they didn‘t have the votes in the house to do so.

This is the bill that would prevent university graduate assistants from joining a union. Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer said what this did “throws out the Constitution to get at a handful of students at the University of Michigan who want to hold an election.” Republicans indicated they didn’t care.

Regardless of your politics, this is not especially smart. We Are the People, the group sponsoring the pro-union collective bargaining amendment, said yesterday’s brutal tactics were exactly why such a change to the constitution is needed. If they succeed, legislative Republicans will pretty much have only themselves to blame.

By the way, to end on a positive note: A few weeks ago, I reported that the Michigan Manual, the beloved statewide encyclopedia and reference book, was in grave danger of not being published for the first time since statehood.

State Senator Steve Bieda now tells me money has been found, and the manual will once again appear his spring.

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