Teachers, nurses and other union members carried signs that said “Some Cuts Never Heal” and “Shame on Snyder.” One union official got a huge cheer from the crowd when he compared the workers to David and Snyder to Goliath.
Ellen Stone teaches special education in the Ann Arbor Public Schools district. She says she hopes the Governor is listening to what they’re saying, because "we’re going to be showing up at the polls en masse," and she "the whole state is waking up to the fact that we elected the wrong guy, and that his mission is not our mission."
Over the last few weeks, thousands have protested against Snyder’s budget plans. There were a few hundred at a rally in downtown Grand Rapids last week. Outside the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel where Snyder addressed a group of business leaders Monday, just a handful of people held signs.
Inside the hotel, Snyder told the crowd he respects the protestors, and he says he expected them.
“Are they all going to get on board? No. Will some people stay upset for a very long time? Yes. But I believe the vast majority of Michiganders are already being very supportive of what we’re doing.”
Snyder encouraged what he called the ‘silent majority’ to speak up – to friends and co-workers, to the media, and to those they elected.
“This is the time to speak. Staying quiet does not help.”
"Yeah, I think they need to have just talk about this, not just cut and cut and cut, and then they’re going to have issues just keeping up the value of their education. He needs to talk to them and do things with the money they got and not cut it, and work together, and make education better, not just cut and expect them to become better by cutting.”
Snyder has proposed a 15% minimum cut for public colleges and universities. University presidents have said cuts that deep would mean tuition hikes.
DeMonaco thinks the student voices will be heard, and lawmakers will find other areas in the budget to save, rather than through cuts to colleges and universities.
The United States has authorized the first evacuations of Americans out of Japan, taking a tougher stand on the deepening nuclear crisis and warning U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to any part of the country as unpredictable weather and wind conditions risked spreading radioactive contamination.
The AP reports the "authorized departure offers voluntary evacuation to family members and dependents of U.S. personnel in Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya and affects some 600 people."
Protests in Lansing
In one of the larger protests at the Michigan Capitol this year, around 3,000 union supporters, school teachers, seniors, students, and others spoke out against bills in the Michigan legislature. The Lansing State Journal reports that 11 people were arrested after a 2 1/2 sit-in in the Capitol. MPRN's Laura Weber described some of the people she saw at the protest this way, "there were big, hulking men in hard hats, business people in suits, and young parents pushing strollers." One of the more controversial bills, one that gives power to Emergency Financial Managers to end void union contracts, was signed into law yesterday by Governor Snyder. Scott Davis of the Lansing State Journal reported:
In their biggest show of force yet this year, union members descended on the Capitol in a show of unity to protest several bills moving through the Legislature. It was the latest in a series of union-led protests in recent weeks - and a reflection of the ongoing battle by public worker unions in Wisconsin."It's beautiful," Joe Bowen, a retired automotive worker who traveled to the rally from Saginaw, said of the show of unity. "It sends a message that it's not fair. They are trying to pinch unions."
Michigan's Hoop Dreams
The NCAA men's basketball tournament begins today and three teams in Michigan are hoping to advance.
Michigan State University plays UCLA tonight at 9:15 (TBS); the University of Michigan plays Tennessee tomorrow at 12:30 (truTV); and Oakland University plays Texas tomorrow at noon (CBS).
UPDATE: A growing number of angry labor-movement supporters are showing up at the state Capitol to protest Republican proposals to tax pensions and limit union control. A drum circle played on the Capitol lawn, surrounded by thousands of protesters with signs, a 15-foot inflated eagle, and flapping American and U-A-W flags.
There were big, hulking men in hardhats, businesspeople in suits, and young parents pushing strollers.
Governor Rick Snyder says he respects the views of people protesting against his budget proposals. Many people have crowded the Capitol lawn this week to stand against Snyder’s plan to tax pensions. The governor says he understands their frustration, but he says a tax on pensions – done the right way – is only fair.
Shotwell was among many other retired UAW workers who are very upset about Snyder’s plan to tax pensions. But Shotwell says the proposed cuts to public education is what brought him out to the protest.
“Our children are the future and you can’t expect to improve the state of Michigan, improve our economic future if you’re going to sabotage education and this is sabotage.”
About a thousand protesters gathered on the state Capitol lawn today and they say there will be more people joining them throughout the week.
They are protesting many budget proposals from Governor Rick Snyder and in the Legislature, including a plan to tax pensions.
Hundreds of people from AARP chanted loudly in opposition to Governor Snyder’s proposal to tax pensions to help end the budget deficit.
Many people held signs that read: “Recall Governor Snyder,” and “Recall The Nerd.”
Jeanette Stang held a sign that read “One-Term Nerd.”
Stang says her husband worked in an auto plant for 37 years, and now they have trouble making ends meet with increasing medical expenses and living off of their pension. Their Flint home is up for sale, and both of their adult sons have already moved out of state:
"Our sons both would not come to Michigan. They said Michigan has gone to pieces...Michigan used to be a beautiful state, and Michigan has really gone downhill…All he wants to do is keep taxing the little guy—tax these bigwigs that have their yachts and have their trips and everything else. Let the people who earned this money and worked hard all their life have their pensions and quick taxing us to death."
Snyder says seniors use government services just like all other taxpayers, and should be taxed on their pension income accordingly.
More protests coming
Labor movement protests at the state Capitol are expected to get bigger and louder as the week goes on and the Legislature votes on controversial issues.
The House is expected to give final approval to a package of bills that would give emergency financial managers more control over struggling communities and school districts, and strip control from local unions.
AARP Michigan has arranged to transport nine busloads totaling 400 seniors to today's "It's Not Fair" rally, where Snyder's proposed tax on pensions will be the target."If (attendance is) over 1,000, we won't be surprised," said AARP Michigan spokesman Mark Hornbeck.
Senior citizens and union members are expected to rally tomorrow at the state Capitol to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s budget plans.
Seniors are taking aim at the governor’s proposal to start levying the income tax on pensions.
Michigan is one of four states that does not tax pensions.
Seniors say it’s not fair to tax pensions at the same time Snyder wants to reduce taxes overall on businesses.
But the governor says seniors who use state services and can afford to pay should share the tax burden:
"Because our population is continuing to age and we want a simple, fair tax system.
The idea here is lower-income people, whether you’re a senior or not, hopefully you’re not going to pay any income tax and we’ve structured the system to do that.
For people with higher incomes, we want something that’s simple, fair, and efficient," says Snyder.
The governor says he is open to compromise on details of his budget, but overall he stands by his plan.
Governor Snyder has also called for cuts to public schools, local governments and state employee compensation.
State employee unions say budget plans that require them to take cuts while Governor Snyder’s department directors earn as much as $250,000 a year are not fair (that's how much Snyder's Budget Director, John Nixon, makes).
Stephen Reck is with SEIU Local 517M – a union that represents state workers:
"Now, I’m not saying the new director isn’t worth $250,000.
If you’re going to attract and retain good people, you’ve got to pay them a fair wage, and that goes for state employees whether an engineer, a scientist, a clerical worker, or a budget director, but be consistent and that’s all we’re asking."
In addition to the seniors and unions expected to protest tomorrow, another rally is planned for Wednesday by a group calling itself "Working Michigan."
More protests are planned to take place at the state Capitol tomorrow. From the Daily Tribune:
Opponents of the proposed tax on pensions plan to rally at the state Capitol from 9 a.m to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, with speakers between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
"We don't think it's fair the governor increases tax on seniors and the poor while giving breaks to business and cutting services," said Mark Horbeck, of AARP Michigan, a sponsor of the rally. "Seniors and the working poor are going to be asked to pay more taxes. What do they get in return? Less services and a business tax cut."
Other groups expected to attend include the Michigan League for Human Services and the state employee retirement association, as well as lawmakers from both parties, said Horbeck, though he declined to name the lawmakers.
AARP is one of the sponsors of the rally, but the rally was really the brainchild of Mary Lee Woodward of Oxford, a General Motors retiree who launched a Facebook page to protest the proposed tax.
She says she launched the Facebook page as soon as the governor made his budget proposal to the Legislature last month. Other efforts include passing out fliers of the upcoming rally.
Taxing her pension, Woodward says, could force her to choose between her home and her car.
State Sen. John Pappageorge R-Troy, sits on both the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will deal with both Snyder's tax proposals and spending plans.
He says it's too early to tell whether taxing pensions is an idea that will eventually pass the Legislature.
"There's not sufficient support yet because we haven't had a chance to dig into it yet and see if we like it as is or if we can improve on it," Pappageorge said. "The point is it's just a little too early. You can't just look at pensions, you have to look at the whole picture and see if we're doing this as fairly as possible."
The controversy is one of the first big showdowns between Republicans and Democrats this year over government reforms.
Unions and Democrats have pretty much given up on trying to stop the measures. They’ve turned their efforts to limiting its scope to protect bargaining rights, as well as cap emergency manager salaries, and require them to periodically meet with the public – so far without any luck.
Doug Withey is a Teamsters bargainer.
“Every community in the state, every governing body has an open meeting. Have the public involved with that. Nope. Not reasonable. Vote it down.”
But Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville say an emergency takeover would be the last option after all else has failed.
“The intent of the legislation is to get into an emergency situation and fix it before it becomes a catastrophe.”
Governor Rick Snyder says his goal is not more state takeovers.
“Anytime you have an emergency manager come in, that’s a failure point. The best answer is to put in a better early-warning system – to figure out how to work with communities before they reach the point of needing a financial manager because a lot of things can be done in those earlier stages to avoid the issue and that’s the best answer.”
Right now, Richardville, Governor Snyder and Republicans have the numbers they need in the Legislature to prevail.
As protests continue in Madison over a controversial bill removing collecting bargaining rights from some public unions, attention is drifting to Michigan.
Governor Snyder has responded to reports and protests by saying that he does not want to follow Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's example, reiterating in an interview with WXYZ that he is eager to solve problems--including the specifics on $180 million dollars worth of concessions from state employees--through the collective bargaining process, and that he "was hired to solve Michigan's issues."
But whether Governor Snyder wants attention from national media or not, it is happening, including a ten-minute report on last night's Rachel Maddow Show.
But what does the law actually say? What is an Emergency Financial Manager? How are they appointed?
And if the title wasn't a clue, the explanation is a little long.
From the FAQ:
What triggers the Act?
Among the conditions specified in the Act are the failure by a unit of local government to pay creditors, the failure to make timely pension contributions, and payless paydays. In addition, certain officials, or residents, of a unit of local government may request a preliminary review under the Act, as may either the State Senate or House of Representatives.
What happens when the Act is triggered?
The State Treasurer conducts a preliminary review of the financial condition of the unit of local government. Once that review is concluded, the State Treasurer reports the result to the Governor. If a serious financial problem is found to exist in the unit of local government, the Governor then appoints a financial review team to conduct a more detailed review of the financial condition of the unit of local government.
What is the purpose of a Financial Review Team?
...[A] Financial Review Team...conduct[s] a more detailed review of the financial condition of the unit of local government. A Financial Review Team generally has 60 days (generally 30 days in the case of school districts) to complete its work and file its report. A Financial Review Team report must reach one of the following three conclusions:
-- A serious financial problem does not exist in the unit of local government, or
-- A serious financial problem exists in the unit of local government, but a Consent Agreement containing a plan to resolve the problem has been adopted, or
-- A local government financial emergency exists because no satisfactory plan exists to resolve the serious financial problem.
If the third conclusion is reached, or if a unit of local government signs, but subsequently violates a Consent Agreement, then a financial emergency is determined to exist in the unit of local government and an Emergency Financial Manager is appointed.
Who appoints Emergency Financial Managers?
For units of local government other than school districts, Emergency Financial Managers are appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the Local Emergency Financial Assistance Loan Board, which consists of the State Treasurer, the Director of the Department of Management and Budget, and the Director of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. Emergency Financial Managers for school districts are appointed by the Governor, subject to the advice and consent of the State Senate
New Powers for EMFs
But a bill passed by the Michigan Senate this week expands the Emergency Financial Managers' powers to include ending union-approved contracts. Holland radio station WHTC reports:
After days of debate and protests, the State Senate passes a bill to give more power to emergency financial managers appointed to cities or school districts. The 26-to-12 vote, which followed party lines, will allow emergency managers to cancel workers union contracts.
Democrats have said passing the bill would undermine collective bargaining in the affected communities or schools, while Republicans contend the legislation would help target municipalities or districts before their financial problems reach critical levels.
Six localities or school districts are currently affected by the law. From the Chicago Tribune:
The current state law related to emergency financial managers is affecting about a half-dozen local communities and schools at this time. Only Pontiac, Benton Harbor, Ecorse and the Detroit Public Schools have state-appointed emergency financial managers in place.
The bill has passed the House and the Senate and is on its way back to the House, where approval is required for some minor changes.
Nobody in Lansing was neutral yesterday when the Michigan senate completed passage of new, tougher Emergency Financial Manager legislation on a straight, party line vote.
State Senator Phil Pavlov said this is needed to maintain “vital services, such as public safety and education,” when a city or a school district is in desperate financial straits.
This reform, he said, is necessary to allow steps to be taken “to protect public interests and the public’s money and strengthen local control and accountability.” His fellow Republicans all agreed.
But if you talked to any of the Democrats, they sounded like this was the equivalent of Mussolini seizing power. “An unfair and unjustified power grab,“ Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer called it. One of her colleagues said it went way too far, “and was going to damage our communities and our schools.”
Well, you could say that it is nice to see that our time-honored tradition of bitter partisan divisions is alive and well, but I think the opposite. We’ve had four sterile years of that in Lansing. I think we’d all be better off if this could have been a bipartisan bill.
Speaking with Alison Cuddy, the host of 848, Professor Ashby said the Wisconsin protests may be seen as historically significant as the events at General Motors in 1936 and 1937.
It’s an interesting analogy, because the sit down strike resonates with labor historians as the moment that the fledgling United Automobile Workers took root at the Detroit car companies.
And, while Flint got the most attention for the sit down strike there, the protests actually spread from Atlanta to Kansas City and Cleveland, just as the protests in Wisconsin have resulted in others across the Great Lakes states.
In the same way that Flint helped the UAW, Professor Ashby argues that the protests in Madison have given public — and private sector — unions a rallying point. Whether they can lead to preserving or growing union membership remains to be seen, however.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to know more about what went on in Flint, the Detroit News has a compendium of the strike here. And you can hear voices of some of the sit down strikers here.
Do you remember the sit down strike, or do you have relatives who took part? We’d love to hear your memories or any stories they’ve handed down.