Stateside: Government and unions learn how to better communicate

Oct 25, 2012

Believe it or not, many of Michigan’s local leaders are satisfied with union negotiations.

According to Tom Ivacko, administrator and program manager of Ford School’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, the relationship between jurisdiction and its employees is quite positive.

Ivacko oversees the Michigan Public Policy Survey program. He spoke today with Cyndy about these relationships.

“Relationships at the local level between the jurisdiction and its employee unions are relatively good. 66% of local government leaders say this relationship is positive,” said Ivacko.

More than ¾ of these jurisdictions have negotiated with their unions in the last year. What do they report on how the talks went?

“We asked about four different topics of negotiation: employee pay levels, fringe benefit rates, staffing levels and work rule changes. On each of these four topics, the outcome of the negotiations was that the unions made concessions much more frequently than jurisdictions, especially on the topic of fringe benefits,” said Ivacko.

The disproportionate amount of concessions is largely driven by state law.

“The changes in state law drive this. Since the beginning of Governor Snyder’s term, state government has enacted a series of laws that we feel are impacting this relationship at the local level and tipping the balance of power toward the jurisdictions. However, when asked, we found many of the jurisdictions were willing to make concessions,” said Ivacko.

"The view of local leaders is relatively positive." -Tom Ivacko

According to Ivacko, communication between cities and its employees can go smoothly.

However, there are still some unions breaking the current positive trend. Ivacko noted that there exist unions who held back on past concessions.  

What should residents do about this?

“If I was a resident in a jurisdiction that was in severe fiscal distress and I thought the unions had not given as many concessions, I would want to know why. Because, many unions did make concessions this year.”

During the interview, Cyndy noted that 69% of local leaders said only unions made concessions in the last talks, yet a large amount of municipalities are planning to seek more concession in the coming year. Which leads to the question, when is enough, enough?

“If I was a union representative, I’d be asking the same thing. In many jurisdictions many employees have no had raises in a number of years," said Ivacko.

Perhaps we would get a different story if we spoke with local union officials.

“It’s fair to assume they’re not happy. But it’s a tough time in Michigan and most unions have been pretty responsible lately," he concluded.

There are two ways you can podcast "Stateside with Cynthia Canty"