labor unions

Stateside: Labor unions' future reliant on cooperation

Nov 13, 2012
Pobrecito33 / Flickr

Labor unions have suffered something of an image crisis over the past decade.

People blame their presence for convoluting many political and economic conversations.

But, according to Harley Shaiken, the unions’ place in society is far from extinct.

Shaiken is a professor of education and geography at University of California, Berkeley.

He addressed the problems currently facing labor unions as well as their past triumphs.

“Overall the public opinion polls are favorable when people are asked if they would join a union,” said Shaiken.

According to Shaiken, the economic gloom of states’ economies cannot entirely be blamed on labor unions.

The election is now only four days away, and I’ve been thinking about what will happen afterward.

Earlier this week, I received a nasty phone call from a woman named Bonnie.

She believes President Obama is evil, and a traitor.

She thinks the media are covering up the truth behind the killing of the American ambassador to Libya.

She was also upset that we are covering up the “fact,” as she put it, that President Obama’s family were all Communists.

I told her, in not very polite terms, that was idiotic.

She began screaming and I hung up.

Stan Oleson / Fotopedia

Voters in Michigan could make some big changes to the Michigan Constitution on November 6th. They’ll decide on five proposed amendments to Michigan’s guiding legal document.

Proposal 2 would enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state Constitution.

Those supporting Proposal 2 say they’re just trying to protect workers’ rights. Labor unions around the Midwest have been feeling squeezed. The legislature in Wisconsin stripped public sector workers of their collective bargaining rights.

MEA

Michigan's Proposal 2 ballot campaign is being watched across the country. The proposal seeks to enshrine collective bargaining rights for public and private employees into the Michigan Constitution.

Steven Greenhouse wrote about the implications of Michigan's Proposal 2 in a recent New York Times piece.

Stateside: Government and unions learn how to better communicate

Oct 25, 2012
UAW sign.
UAW

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.

ROSEVILLE, Mich. (AP) - Authorities say someone's trying to scam residents of a Detroit suburb into believing that missing Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa could be buried on their property.

Roseville police are warning city residents about a letter that purports to be from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The letter says a recent dig at a Roseville home for Hoffa was a ruse to keep the media away from the real site.

The letter's author implies the true Hoffa dig site is at the recipient's home.

Several residents received a copy of the fake letter as a lure to get them outside while thieves go inside their homes.

Roseville police investigated a claim last month that Hoffa was buried in a backyard, but testing on soil samples showed no traces of human decomposition.

The 37-year-old search for Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa moves to a driveway in Roseville, Mich., on Friday.

"Police will be taking soil core samples," the Detroit Free Press reports, after receiving what they say is a "credible" tip that around the time of Hoffa's 1975 disappearance someone was buried under what's now a driveway in a Roseville residential neighborhood.

Patrick Wright of the Mackinac Center says home health care workers are being forced to pay union dues.
Mackinac Center

Michigan could void its contract with thousands of home health care workers if a state board agrees with a legal action filed this week by the Mackinac Center.

The free market think tank is asking the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to rule that home health care workers aren’t public employees, but rather private contractors who can’t unionize.

The workers are organized under the Service Employees International Union.

The Mackinac Center’s Pat Wright says they’re forced to pay dues that should be going to patient care.

The Detroit News has an update on the "Big Three" and their negotiations with the Canadian Auto Workers union. The deadline for a deal is midnight tonight.

User: dmealiffe / flickr.com

The Canadian Auto Workers union said today its members have voted to strike against Chrysler, Ford, and GM, if necessary.

The Detroit News reports the CAW is negotiating new contracts with the automakers. Current contracts are set to expire on September 17:

The CAW is expected to meet with the automakers Monday and Tuesday in downtown Toronto.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals hears arguments tomorrow over whether a ballot initiative to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution should be on the November ballot.

Michigan Hall of Justice
User Xnatedawgx / Wikimedia Commons

More ballot measure news today as Michigan voters face a November election that will likely include  about a half a dozen ballot measures.

The Michigan Court of Appeals will hear arguments next week from supporters and opponents of a ballot measure that seeks to add collective bargaining rights for workers into the state constitution.

A group called Protect Our Jobs collected nearly 700,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot. The group Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution challenged the petition, saying the ballot proposal was unconstitutionally broad.

In an order released today, the court says oral arguments in the case will be heard Wednesday in Lansing.

An appeal to the court was made after the Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 this week on the Protect Our Jobs ballot proposal.

Eastern Michigan University
krossbow / Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK

Eastern Michigan University officials announced today they've reached a tentative agreement with the union representing EMU faculty members.

The current contract with the union was set to expire at midnight on August 31. EMU students start classes on Wednesday, September 5.

EMU officials say the contract "provides for salary increases of 2 percent per year for each year of the contract, as well as changes to health care plans."

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

More than 60 union workers at Grand Rapids Gravel Company are beginning their third week on strike over a proposed wage cut. Now the private company has security to protect replacement workers and equipment.

About a dozen union workers glare at a replacement worker hauling a load of gravel out of the pits they usually work in. One security guard video tapes us talking as the hauler leaves the pits.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has imposed new contract terms on nearly all city workers.

The move comes a day after the Detroit City Council rejected those terms. But the city’s consent agreement with the state lets city officials impose them anyway.

Bing said it was a tough decision, but a necessary one.

“It’s not easy," he told reporters Wednesday morning. "I know it’s going to be difficult for a lot of people. But I’ve got to worry about 700,000 people in the city of Detroit, not just the workers.”

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing
Mayor Dave Bing / Facebook.com

A board created to help Detroit Mayor Dave Bing repair the city's broken finances has approved his plan to make more than $100 million in cuts to the unionized workforce.

The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press report the financial advisory board took its first major steps toward restructuring the city's finances yesterday. The plan calls for putting in place savings that include a 10 percent wage cut and significant changes to health care and work rules.

Most are similar to tentative agreements reached earlier this year with unions.

The City Council is expected to consider the plan next week, but the financial board can implement the actions without council's approval.

The nine-member board was formed under a consent agreement between the city and state.

Union supporters of veteran Congressman John Conyers are holding a re-election rally Monday for the Detroit Democrat. The 82-year-old is seeking a 24th term in the House and faces several challengers in the Aug. 7 party primary.

The group Working Families for Southeast Michigan says its rally is set for 5-8 p.m. at the Michigan Conference-Teamsters hall in Detroit.

Others in the Democratic race in the 13th District include state Sens. Glenn Anderson of Westland and Bert Johnson of Highland Park, and state Rep. Shanelle Jackson of Detroit.

Conyers is the second-most senior member of the House, dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

President Barack Obama endorsed Conyers in February.

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DETROIT (AP) - Some Detroit municipal union leaders say striking is one of several options being discussed during ramped-up strategy sessions before new contract talks with the city begin.

American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Council 25 spokesman Ed McNeil says no strike vote has been taken "at this point."

McNeil said "people are looking at the system itself and are pretty disgusted with the city."

Union strategy sessions have become more agitated since Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder approved a consent agreement that avoided appointment of an emergency manager in Detroit but now calls for steeper benefit cuts and more work rules concessions.

Detroit has an accumulated budget deficit of $265 million. Bing wants to cut more than 2,500 jobs and shave $250 million in annual expenses.

Yesterday, Cyndy Canty spoke with Flint Mayor Dayne Walling and other experts about Michigan's Emergency Manager Law.
michiganradio.org

Flint's emergency manager, Michael Brown, has been working out new contract deals with the city's unions. Public safety unions have been working under expired contracts in Flint for more than two years.

Kristin Longley of the Flint Journal reports Brown has reached agreements with three of the city's six employee bargaining units (the police sergeants union, the police captains and lieutenants union, and the firefighters union).

U of M GEO

The issue of whether or not certain University of Michigan graduate students can unionize is back in the news.

Two graduate students at the University of Michigan have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in an effort to overturn a new state law that prohibits U of M graduate student research assistants, or GSRAs, from collective bargaining.

Public Act 45 effectively says GSRAs are primarily students, not public employees, and therefore don’t have the right to form a union.

Sam Montgomery is with the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), a labor union at U of M. She says the law violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. constitution:

"It singles out this group of individuals and withholds them from a right that is granted to other public employees without giving a rational based in fact as to why they are not employees."

Last May, the U of M Board of Regents voted 6 to 2 to recognize the university's roughly 2,200 GSRAs as public employees with the right to vote to form a union.

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission found otherwise in a 1981 ruling. The Commission was in the middle of holding its own administrative hearing on the issue when Governor Snyder signed Public Act 45 into law.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint emergency manager Michael Brown says two police unions have tentatively approved new contracts with the city.

More from Kristin Longley at the Flint Journal:

The members of the Flint sergeants union and the lieutenants and captains union voted on the proposed contracts Thursday, he said.

Brown said it was a significant accomplishment that the parties were able to reach a consensus. The city's four public safety unions have been operating under expired contracts for more than two years.

Details have yet to be released. Brown said he expects to sign the contracts soon to make them official.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder has signed legislation aimed at making sure union dues aren't collected from certain home health care workers.

The bill that the Republican governor announced signing Tuesday would exclude those who receive a government subsidy for private employment from the definition of a public employee.

Snyder said the legislation clarifies Michigan law to its original intent.

Republicans who control the Michigan Legislature have been critical of what they consider stealth, unilaterally imposed union dues collection from those who serve as care providers through a program called the Michigan Quality Community Care Council.

Unions are attempting to counteract the legislation through a ballot campaign aimed at getting features of the program enshrined in the state constitution.

They'd have to collect nearly 323,000 voter signatures to make the November ballot.

GEO

University of Michigan graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) have wanted to hold a vote asking other GSRAs whether or not a union should be formed for decades.

In the past, they've been prevented from holding a vote because the Michigan Employment Relations Commission has not allowed a vote to go forward.

Most recently they were prevented from doing so because of a new state law banning GSRAs from forming unions at public universities in Michigan.

But the timing of when that new law goes into effect has been hotly contested in the courts.

It's a long, sordid tale that involves parliamentary rules in the State House.

An Ingham County judge had ruled the law cannot go into effect immediately, so the Commission scheduled a vote on the UM GSRA unionization vote.

But the Court of Appeals stayed the Ingham County judge's ruling on Monday, restoring the immediate effect of the GSRA unionization ban.

So today, the Michigan Employment Relations Commission decided to table a vote on whether to allow the UM GSRAs to go forward with a unionization vote.

In a 2-1 vote, the Commission said any action they take on the issue would be moot because of the latest court ruling.

Earlier this week, Flint emergency manager said he worked out a deal with the city's firefighter's union and hoped to work out deals with the city's other unions by Friday.

The Flint Journal reports this morning that Brown will not meet that deadline:

Flint emergency manager Michael Brown has canceled this month's meeting with city council members until further notice.

Brown had planned to present council on Monday with a 2013 budget, but said Thursday that he won't meet today's deadline for addressing union contracts or the budget and wants more time.

Brown says there's no new firm deadline for hammering out new contracts.

user brother_o'mara / Flickr

Detroit approves consent agreement with the state

As Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek reported, the 5-4 vote in favor of a consent agreement with the state "came after an emotionally-charged debate that sometimes erupted into hostility."

The agreement, which the Governor is expected to sign sometime today, sets up a nine-member financial advisory board that would have oversight over the city's financial matters. It also establishes a chief financial officer position, and a program management position, both would report to the mayor.

Cwiek reports the city's restructuring "will be painful and sweeping" with some city departments disappearing, some services cut and others privatized. And the recently negotiated contracts with a coalition of city unions will be tossed aside. New contracts must be worked out.

To help the city avoid insolvency, the state of Michigan will complete a refinancing of some outstanding debt by selling bonds.

Michigan school unions file federal lawsuit against state

The state passed a law last year barring school districts from collecting union dues through payroll deduction.  Schools unions filed a lawsuit against that law in federal court yesterday.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reported "the federal lawsuit alleges the law violates the 1st and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, by discriminating against school employees’s free speech rights and treating them differently than other public employees…who can still have their union dues deducted from their paycheck."

The governor’s office issued a statement backing the law, “We believe the bill does adhere to the constitution. ”

It's Opening Day for the Tigers!

The first Major League baseball game of the season took place last night in Miami, but for the rest of the League  - today is the day.

In Detroit, the Detroit Tigers will slug it out with the Boston Red Sox at 1:05 p.m. Fans and sportswriters have high expectations for the Tigers this year with many expecting the team to take the AL Central pennant.

In today's Detroit Free Press, Tiger's owner Mike Ilitch told Mitch Albom he spent big money to field a competitive team this year:

Wait 'til next year. It's the sports fan's mantra. But for Mike Ilitch, next years are precious. At 82, he admits he gave Prince Fielder the largest contract in Tigers history at least partly due to urgency in winning a World Series title. "Time is running out," he says. "No use kidding myself."

Spring has sprung; 99% spring events are coming

Apr 2, 2012
Valerie O'Rourkefrom the 99% Spring Blog / from the 99% Spring Blog

Earlier this year, we told you about The 99% Spring, the protest movement sponsored by a variety of political and labor groups including MoveOn.org, the United Auto Workers and the Teamsters Union.

It’s part of a fresh wave of protests that are taking place across the country, in the wake of the Occupy movement.

Starting next week, 99% Spring events will be kicking off across the United States, and especially in the Midwest.

Supporters are vowing to train 100,000 people to “to tell the story of what happened to our economy, learn the history of non-violent direct action, and use that knowledge to take action on our own campaigns to win change.”

Over the weekend, the UAW sent an email to its members, encouraging them to take part.

“We are at a crucial point in America where if we continue to ignore the opportunity to rebuild this great country, then we risk losing the very essence of what has made this country great,” the email said. 

Some 918 events have been scheduled thus far. MoveOn.org, which is associated with the Democratic Party, has a locator for events, where you can put in your zip code and find those closest to you.

Here are the ones for the Detroit area, Chicago and Milwaukee, and Cleveland. To be sure, the 99% Spring movement hasn’t said what will happen once people are trained, but given the training events, it’s pretty clear it will meet its goal of training 100,000 people.

Are you planning to take part in 99% Spring? Let us know where and when.

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Update 11:06 a.m.

In addition to threatening to strike, AFSCME officials say they will also file a federal lawsuit to try and compel Detroit City Council to take a vote on the tentative agreements the unions bargained for.

Unions are also in federal court seeking a restraining order. They're trying to prevent the Detroit City Council from signing off on a consent agreement.

10:49 a.m.

Time is running out for Detroit and state officials to reach an agreement to stave off an emergency manager.

This morning, Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis confirmed he won’t ask the City Council to approve new labor contracts for city workers.

That infuriates union leaders, who gave up historic concessions in an effort to save money and avoid an emergency manager.

Al Garrett, President of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees in Detroit, said this is about breaking unions, not Detroit’s fiscal crisis.

"People don’t have to come to work if in fact their rights are being abridged," said Garrett. "It is not unusual for strikes in the city of Detroit, and I’m pretty sure that they may be met with some stiff opposition with regards to taking away rights that folks have had for years."

Gov. Snyder has said those concessions don’t go far enough. Under a proposed consent agreement, city officials would have broad powers to skip collective bargaining and impose union contracts.

Detroit skyline
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

In a deal announced today, a coalition of unions representing thousands of Detroit city workers said their members approved 10 percent pay cuts and other changes.

The Associated Press reports "the deal announced Friday affects at least 4,500 workers and still needs approval from the city council."

It does not cover the unions representing Detroit police officers or Detroit firefighters. Those unions are in separate talks.

Absent cuts or added revenue, the city is expected to run out of cash sometime in April.

The cuts are intended to hold off a state takeover of Detroit through the appointment of an emergency manager, or though a consent agreement.

The Detroit Free Press reports the question of whether these cuts are enough remains to be seen:

Under the current agreement, the city would save about $54 million a year in concessions — less than half what Mayor Dave Bing originally wanted.

Other savings include $14 million in layoffs and about $100 million in new revenue by aggressively collecting past due taxes and parking tickets, but those were plans already underway before the negotiations.

An attorney who assisted in the negotiations for the coalition of unions, Richard Mack, said "we are going to make sure the city gets back in the black within a year."

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder wants to hear recommendations on Monday from the state's financial review team about whether the state should step in with either an emergency manager or a consent agreement.

But the legality of the review team is getting tangled up in the courts. An Ingham County judge found that the state's review team violated the Open Meetings Act. The state appealed the ruling, which is now being reviewed by the appeals court.

Dmitri Beljan / Flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Two proposed constitutional amendments supported by Michigan unions have cleared procedural hurdles allowing their campaigns to continue.

The forms of petitions sponsored by the groups were approved Monday by the Board of State Canvassers. Supporters would need to collect at least 322,609 valid voter signatures to put the proposed constitutional amendments before voters in November.

The newest of the proposals aims to put what is now called the Michigan Quality Community Care Council in the state constitution.

The proposal would protect some collective bargaining rights for employees, a clause opponents say may conflict with federal law.

The other proposal is backed by a broad union coalition. The Protect Our Jobs campaign would enshrine collective bargaining rights in the constitution and serve as a pre-emptive strike against possible right-to-work legislation.

Unions and progressive groups have launched a ballot drive as a push back against what they say is a wave of anti-labor measures from Republicans in Lansing.

The campaign wants to put a proposed amendment to the state constitution on the November ballot.

It would prohibit Michigan from becoming a "right-to-work" state that allows employees to opt out of paying union dues. It would also pre-empt a host of other laws that would restrict union organizing and fundraising.

Jeff Bean, a teacher’s union member from Flint, said union rights helped build the middle class.

"A strong middle class is the backbone, especially here in Michigan, but I would say nationwide – of our economy, of our process, of our culture, so I think it’s something that deserves a constitutional amendment for that reason," said Bean.

Opponents of the ballot drive said it’s motivated more by a desire of union leaders to drive voter turnout in November than to guarantee workers’ rights.

Governor Rick Snyder’s spokeswoman says a fierce debate over "right-to-work" and other labor issues won’t help Michigan rebuild its economy.

The governor has said he hopes the Legislature will put off a measure that would outlaw compulsory union membership or dues to hold a job.

The governor’s spokeswoman, Geralyn Lasher, said Gov. Snyder is equally skeptical of a ballot drive to guarantee union organizing rights in the state constitution.

"The 'right-to-work' issue, everything about that is so divisive, it’s not something Michigan needs to be focused on right now. We have so many other things that we can work on cooperatively. We’ve seen a lot of success with collective bargaining. We want to continue to move forward. We don’t really see a lot of positives from this battle on either side of the issue," said Wurfel.

Union and progressive groups launched the ballot drive today.

They have until July 9 to collect enough signatures of registered voters to qualify for the November ballot.

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