State worker unions rally on eve of contract decision

Dec 17, 2013

Thousands of state employees could see their health benefits reduced Wednesday. That’s if a state board votes to approve a new contract.

Public employee unions couldn’t reach a contract agreement with the state this year, so the Michigan Civil Service Commission will vote on a compromise plan drawn up by an independent panel. 

Unions say it includes too many concessions while, at the same time, state officials are expecting a budget surplus.

“The state is in a very good position, and then they’re continuing to ask the workers to give up much more,” said Yvonne Cash with UAW Local 6000, the largest state worker union in Michigan. Cash was protesting with dozens of other union members Tuesday outside Governor Rick Snyder’s office in Lansing.

Workers would have to pay more out of their pockets for things like doctor’s visits. But they would also get a 2% pay increase in each of the next two years.

“We’re not too concerned about the raise,” said George Heath, with the Michigan chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “What we need is to maintain our healthcare benefits, because that’s important to everybody. It’s something that affects every employee, not just a few. It affects all of us.”

Michigan budget officials say the state still needs to make significant savings to on solid financial ground. They say that will help reduce the number of concessions state workers have to make in the long run.

“We have taken things off the table that we were talking about years ago that we’re not anymore. And we’ve done that because the state budget is in good shape,” said Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget spokesperson Kurt Weiss. “We’re not talking about furlough days, we’re not talking about temporary days off without pay.”

Weiss says many public employees would actually see their health care costs go down with the new contract because premiums will be lower.