labor unions

Niala Boodhoo / Changing Gears

Midwest states are changing their relationships with unions.

Last week, Indiana became the first in the region to become a right to work state.

Last year, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker dismantled collective bargaining rights for state workers. Public safety workers were supposed to be exempt.

A year later, though, hundreds of police, firefighters and paramedics find they’re also getting less pay.

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is questioning the approach of his fellow Republican governors in the upper Midwest.

He said in an interview with The Associated Press that their efforts to push through divisive legislation may make governing more difficult in the long run.

Snyder says he sees large protests in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana about anti-union laws as unfortunate. He says pushing the contentious legislation means those states will have overcome
divisiveness and hard feelings in the future.

Snyder spoke to the AP on Wednesday, while in Washington to a congressional committee about job creation.

Snyder says he prefers a consensus approach to governing. He says government should do what it can, find areas of agreement and get that done rather than focus on potentially divisive legislation.

Protestors outside the Indiana Capitol building when the "right-to-work" legislation passed earlier this year.
screen grab from video / The Statehouse File

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana is the first Rust Belt state to enact the contentious right-to-work labor law prohibiting labor contracts that require workers to pay union representation fees, after Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the bill Wednesday afternoon.

The Senate approved the measure a few hours earlier Wednesday, following weeks of discord that saw House Democrats boycott the Legislature and thousands of protesters gather at the Statehouse.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Employees in unionized workplaces would have to annually renew their written consent allowing union dues to be deducted from their paychecks under legislation approved by a Republican-led Michigan House committee today.

More from the Associated Press:

The proposal approved Tuesday by a 4-2 party line vote in the House Oversight, Reform and Ethics Committee is opposed by Democrats and unions who consider the legislation unnecessary and an attack on labor organizations.

Supporters of the bill say it wouldn't allow employees to avoid paying a "fair share" contribution or fee related to operating a union. But it would give workers more control over whether money is collected for political activities or other functions.

In Michigan, employees in unionized workplaces have the option of opting out on part of their union dues.

Michigan Radio's Lester Graham provided an example of this in his report last week.

He spoke with Terry Bowman, a person who considers himself a "'union conservative":

Right now, by law, he’s required to pay union dues. He has the option of not being part of the union, but he still has to pay what’s called an agency fee. The agency fee covers the cost of the union’s collective bargaining and grievance handling.

It’s slightly less than regular union dues because it does not include money that’s used to make direct political contributions.

The measure to force annual written consent for union paycheck deductions advances to the House floor.

user "Dmitri" Beljan / Flickr

Some Republicans in the Michigan House want to give workers in union shops the option not to pay union dues. Unions in the state say that’s something that they’d “take to the streets” to fight. 

But not all union members agree.

Terry Bowman works at a Ford plant in Ypsilanti. He’s a member of the United Auto Workers.

He calls himself a 'union conservative.'

A package of Republican bills in the state Legislature would boost penalties for public workers who go on strike. The legislation would also let employers sue striking workers who get in the way of their businesses, and make it more complicated for unions to get dues deducted from employee paychecks.

The state House Oversight, Reform, and Ethics Committee opened hearings on the package today. 

“It’s just to give clarity," said Rep. Tom McMillin (R-Auburn Hills), who chairs the committee. "Strikes that are illegal are really illegal. We’ve seen people try to get to the gray areas and we’re trying to reduce the gray and make it as black and white as we can.”

Union leaders say it’s been years since there’s been any kind of public employee strike in Michigan, and they say the measures are really just meant to harass unions.

“It’s not enough to draw and quarter somebody; You also have to waterboard them and, besides that, shoot them through the heart," said Mary Ellen Gurwitz, an attorney with the Michigan AFL-CIO. 

Hearings on the bills are expected to continue next week.

Danny Birchall / Flickr

People who want to end compulsory union membership in Michigan are closely watching Indiana. Debate began in that state’s Capitol today to make Indiana the first “right-to-work” state in the industrial Midwest.

The legislation would ban the requirement that workers pay union dues as a condition of holding a job.

Michigan “right-to-work” supporters say the Indiana debate boosts their cause in a state where Republican Governor Rick Snyder has said the issue is too divisive to tackle.

State Representative Mike Shirkey disagrees with Snyder and plans to introduce a “right-to-work” bill in the Michigan Legislature.

DETROIT (AP) - Two former union officials have been sentenced to prison for threatening to prolong a strike against General Motors for personal gain.

Donny Douglas and Jay Campbell had been placed on probation, but the light punishments were overturned by an appeals court.

Douglas got 18 months in prison Monday while Campbell received a year and a day. They had been accused of threatening to extend a three-month strike at the Pontiac truck factory in 1997 unless a
friend and family member were hired for $150,000 jobs.

Prosecutors say it was akin to public corruption.

The appeals court overturned the original sentences because a judge failed to consider the financial loss suffered by GM when the two people were hired and many UAW members filed grievances.

courtesy UM GEO

Some graduate student research assistants at the University of Michigan, also known as GSRAs, have wanted to unionize under the "Graduate Employee Organization" for decades.

A decision on whether attempts to unionize graduate students can move forward is coming up at a December 13 meeting of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.

The MERC is expected to vote whether to direct an administrative law judge to determine whether GSRAs are university "employees" or "students."

Many University of Michigan administrators and deans argue the GSRAs are students, not employees.

It they're determined to be employees, the 2,200 GSRAs can hold a vote on whether or not to unionize.

Now, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, on behalf of the people of Michigan, he says, has decided to jump into this administrative debate.

CMU

The Central Michigan University Faculty Association held a strike on the first day of classes last August. The union said the CMU administration was not bargaining on their new contract in good faith.

A judge ordered the striking faculty members back to work and a state appointed fact finder heard both sides of the grievances in early September.

Now that fact finder, Barry Goldman, has let issued a report siding with the CMU administration on salary and benefit issues, according to Lindsay Knake of the Saginaw News.

More from the Saginaw News:

With salary adjustments, Goldman acknowledged in the report CMU has $228 million in unrestricted net assets, but said the university cannot be as generous with the funds as it appears.

“The CMU proposal of a zero increase in the first year and modest increases in subsequent years is not an unreasonable offer, all things considered. Circumstances are bad and getting worse. It would be extremely unwise for CMU to eat its seed corn,” Goldman’s statement said.

The administration’s offer includes a wage freeze for one year with increases equal to 4 percentage points over three years.

Golman also said the faculty should accept the health care plan being offered by the administration. His findings are non-binding, according to the Saginaw News.

Update, 6:30 pm:

Speaking with reporters on a late afternoon conference call, UAW President Bob King says its International Executive Board followed the union’s constitution, which gives skilled trades workers a separate right of ratification on skilled trades issues.

But King says the board investigated the reasons skilled trades workers voted the contract down. He says according to Facebook posts and leaflets, the main reasons were general economic ones affecting all workers, such as bonuses - and not issues specific to skilled trades workers.

"You want to protect the rights of the minority, but you can’t let the minority overrule the rights of the majority," King said.

King says with all three contracts with the Detroit automakers now finalized, the union will turn its attention to organizing efforts, and the 2012 elections.

Here's the breakout of the vote, according to the UAW:

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) - A day after he refused to endorse an Ohio ballot measure that limits public employee union rights, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said Wednesday that he is "110
percent" behind the effort.

While he was in Ohio on Tuesday, Romney seemed to distance himself from anti-union measures that have lost popularity in recent months. Campaigning a day later, the former Massachusetts governor told reporters that he supports the ballot measure aimed at restricting collective bargaining rights for state employees.

"I'm sorry if I created any confusion in that regard. I fully support Gov. (John) Kasich's - I think it's called Question Two in Ohio. Fully support that," Romney said after visiting a local GOP office in the Washington suburbs. "Actually, on my website, I think back as early as April, I laid out that I support Question Two and Gov. Kasich's effort to restrict collective bargaining in Ohio."

DETROIT (AP) - Karla Swift is the new president of the Michigan AFL-CIO, succeeding Mark Gaffney who led the labor group for 12 years.

Swift is described as a lifelong trade unionist and a leader in the United Auto Workers. Delegates at the state convention in Detroit on Monday chose her and new secretary-treasurer Daryl Newman.

National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says Swift and Newman will "bring energy, fresh ideas and focus." The Michigan AFL-CIO is affiliated with unions that represent roughly 350,000 active members and nearly as many retirees.

Swift says Michigan's "job crisis" is her top priority. She says she'll fiercely defend the right of workers to engage in collective bargaining. Gaffney did not run for re-election as AFL-CIO leader.

On Monday, Mark Gaffney, who has been president of the state AFL-CIO for a dozen years, will turn over the job to Karla Swift, a longtime staffer for the United Auto Workers union.

user santoshkrishnan / Flickr

Update - 3:07 p.m.

More thoughts on the newly ratified UAW-GM contract from Micky Maynard with Changing Gears:

General Motors gave some new details today on its just-ratified agreement with the United Auto Workers union. Among them: up to 25 percent of its workforce could be “two-tiers” — new hires at lower rates than veteran workers.

Changing Gears reporter Kate Davidson profiled two-tier workers last year. Right now, they’re only 4 percent of GM’s workforce, but the auto company clearly has plans for more of them.

There’s a caveat, though. In order for GM to hire more workers, auto sales have to pick up, company executives said during a conference call with Wall Street analysts. And it isn’t promising to hire the same number of workers as it sees sales go up: it will study its staffing needs and hire accordingly. 

The new contract runs through 2015 and caps the number of “two-tiers” at 25 percent at the end of the contract. It calls for the new hires to get a raise to nearly $20 an hour by 2015 (veteran workers are paid about $28 an hour now).

Other GM highlights:

  • The number of people working in its U.S. factories has dropped sharply. GM had 110,000 hourly production workers in 2005, according to its presentation. In 2008, the year before it filed for bankruptcy production, GM had 78,000 U.S. workers. Now, GM has just 49,000 hourly workers, or less than half what it had six years ago.
  • For the first time in 58 years, GM does not expect its pension expense to rise under the new contract. One reason is that newly hired workers will not be covered by GM’s traditional pension plan; they will receive a 401(k) retirement program instead.
  • GM says it still has 700 workers laid off from their jobs. They have first dibs on jobs at GM plants, including the workers it plans to hire when it reopens its factory in Spring Hill, Tenn. Once those workers have been offered the chance to come back, then GM will hire new workers, including temporaries.

Read more about the GM contract in The New York Times.

1:05 p.m.

More from Pete Bigelow of Changing Gears:

General Motors became the first domestic automaker to reach an official agreement on a new contract with members of the United Auto Workers union Wednesday afternoon.

The UAW said in a written release that 65 percent of production workers and 63 percent of skilled trade workers voted in favor of the agreement, which had been tentatively agreed upon Sept 16. A four-year contract provides a wage increase for entry-level workers, and goes into effect immediately.

The agreement would create 6,400 jobs in the United States, the release said.

“When it seems like everyone in America is getting cuts in benefits and paying higher co-pays and deductibles, we were able to maintain and improve on our current benefits,” said UAW vice president Joe Ashton.

GM CEO Dan Akerson is expected to hold a conference call with Wall Street analysts at 2 p.m.

12:37 p.m.

The deal is complete. UAW members officially ratified their contract with General Motors.

From the Detroit Free Press:

The UAW said today that its members have ratified a new four-year labor agreement with GM that gives workers a $5,000 signing bonus and is expected to preserve or add 6,400 U.S. jobs.

It is the first contract for 48,500 GM hourly workers since the automaker’s 2009 bankruptcy and restructuring.

The union said the vote was 65% in favor of the agreement among production workers, and 63% in favor among skilled-trades workers.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Today, the Michigan House of Representatives passed legislation that would keep public schools from automatically deducting union dues from an employee's paycheck. The vote passed 55-53 and goes onto the Republican-led Senate.

From the Associated Press:

Supporters of the bill say it will put more money in teachers' paychecks, at least up front. Teachers could write checks to unions later to cover their dues.

Opponents say the proposal is another attempt to weaken teachers' unions and inconvenience teachers in the state.

A separate proposal that could soon come up in the Michigan Legislature would make Michigan a so-called "right to teach" state.

Michigan Speaker of the House Jase Bolger released a statement about the bill, saying that the legislation "empowers school employees.":

We are hearing from teachers, in particular, who are not happy with how union leaders are using their dues. Because that has led to disagreement, we need to make sure our public schools stay out of the middle of collecting union dues.

The Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, says the legislation does nothing to improve education or put money back in members pockets:

"This kind of legislation is a blatant example of political payback for our involvement in recall elections."

The Republican leader of the state Senate says he has no interest in making Michigan a right-to-work state.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says union workers have already made many concessions to help Michigan’s economic outlook.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Workers at the American Red Cross Mid-Michigan chapter are on the picket line, after a strike deadline passed without a deal.

Red Cross spokeswoman Monica Stoneking says the strike will drastically reduce blood collection efforts in 65 Michigan counties:

"In the Great Lakes region alone, we need to collect about 700 units of blood every day to meet the hospital needs and the needs of the patients we serve, and not being able to collect those blood products really puts our blood supply in jeopardy," said Stoneking.

Stoneking hopes negotiations will resolve the standoff soon.

"We're preparing for at least ten days," said Stoneking. "We're calling on other regions that aren’t affected by the union to increase our blood collection so that our national blood supply is healthy."

The strike affects about 280 nurses and staff who handle blood. They’ve been working without a contract since 2008.

Union officials say the two sides are far apart on many issues.

Talks are scheduled to resume September 17.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder is ready to launch a new series of fall initiatives, including measures to improve Michigan residents' health, fix crumbling roads and sewer systems and train
more people for available jobs.

He could unveil his health and wellness initiatives as early as next week. The Republican governor plans to lay out a roads plan in October and a way to better tap Michigan workers' talents in
November.

Snyder has been focused on "reinventing" Michigan since he took office in January, and doesn't plan to slow down anytime soon.

But he could be distracted this fall by a flurry of bills being pushed by fellow Republicans, such as making Michigan a right-to-work state and outlawing a late-term abortion procedure that's already illegal through a federal law.

UM Center for Local, State and Urban Policy

56 percent of local officials in jurisdictions that have unions believe the unions have been a liability to their jurisdictions' fiscal health, according to a survey released by the University of Michigan (43% reported "somewhat of a liability," and 13% reported "a significant liability").

The survey was conducted the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy from April 18 to June 10, 2011.

The Center says only 27 percent of Michigan's local governments have unions, but the vast majority of the state's population (98 percent) live in areas where their local governments have unionized employees.

The perception that these unions hurt a government's bottom line doesn't necessarily fall along party lines, according to the report:

Compared to Republican and Independent local leaders, Democratic officials are somewhat more positive about the fiscal impact of employee unions. But a surprisingly high 48 percent of the Democrats say unions have been a liability to their jurisdictions' fiscal health.

Thomas Ivacko told the Associated Press:

"It's a complex picture coming out from the local level," center administrator Thomas Ivacko told the AP. "Local leaders tend to say that having a union is hurting their fiscal health. . . . (But) the picture isn't all negative."

Despite the bad perception on overall fiscal health, the report says the respondents rated their relationship with the unions as generally positive:

60 percent of the local officials say the relationship between their localities and employee unions has been either good or excellent over the past 12 months, according to the statewide poll. Only 5 percent say the relationship was poor.

CMU

Both sides in the Central Michigan University fracas seem to like the court order issued today.

Judge Paul Chamberlain said members of the CMU Faculty Association must continue to work, but they are allowed to picket.

From the Saginaw News:

An Isabella County judge extended a court injunction that prevents Central Michigan University faculty from holding a strike or work stoppage.

The court order, signed by Circuit Judge Paul H. Chamberlain just before noon on Friday, states faculty are restrained from holding a work stoppage but are allowed to picket.

Laura Frey, Faculty Association president, said the court hearing was a "win" for the faculty.

"Our First Amendment rights have been restored," she said.

In a statement, CMU Provost and Executive Vice President E. Gary Shapiro said "we are extremely pleased with today’s court action, which places the priority on student learning and academic achievement. We now look forward to reaching an agreement through fact finding."

The University is seeking to cut faculty pay and benefits in response to state budget cuts. Members of the CMU Faculty Association, the union representing faculty, have said University officials are not bargaining in good faith with them.

A fact-finding process set up to resolve the dispute will begin on September 7.

In the Saginaw News article, Laura Frey "said the faculty intends on exercising their First Amendment rights when asked if they would picket."

CMU

The Central Michigan University Faculty Association organized a work stoppage on the first day of classes yesterday after they said the CMU administration was not bargaining with the union in good faith.

CMU officials filed in injunction and a judge ordered the faculty members back to work (state employees are not allowed to strike under state law).

The dispute is over cuts to salary and benefits.

Now, a fact finder has been assigned to help the parties resolve the dispute. From a CMU press release:

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission has appointed Barry Goldman to oversee the fact finding process involving the CMU Faculty Association and Central Michigan University.In addition, hearing dates of Sept. 7, 9 and 13 have been accepted by both parties. Fact finding is a process in which an impartial party is assigned to hear both the university’s and the FA’s positions and then render a recommendation on a collective bargaining agreement. Both the FA and CMU filed petitions for fact finding July 14.   

CMU spokesman Steve Smith says Goldman will listen to both sides on the hearing dates and will later issue a recommendation.

Update: 5:08 p.m.

The Central Michigan University Faculty Association plans to comply with Judge Duthie's order.

From their press release:

Laura Frey, CMU Faculty Association President said, “We will obey the court order and return to work tomorrow. But this does not end the issue. The faculty remains strong and committed to securing a fair and equitable contract for members.”

CMU

The Central Michigan University Faculty Association declared a strike on the first day of classes today.

Members of the Faculty Association and those supporting the union formed picket lines around the campus today.

Reporter David Jesse described the scene on the CMU Campus for the Detroit Free Press:

CMU

Faculty reports and the student newspaper say CMU faculty went on strike tonight. The faculty say the administration did not bargain in good faith. The move comes one day before classes are scheduled to start tomorrow.

CMU officials call the faculty strike an illegal work stoppage. They say students should report for the first day of classes tomorrow. The university says it will seek a court injunction tomorrow to stop the strike.

CMU’s 439 fixed term faculty and 591 graduate assistants will still hold classes as scheduled.

Michigan Radio will have more on the story Monday as it develops.

Update 9:40 p.m.

Here's the University's statement:

Central Michigan University is disappointed that members of the CMU Faculty Association have voted to engage in an illegal work stoppage. This action creates an unfair disruption to the start of the academic year for CMU’s students.

CMU students should report for classes Monday and staff should report for work. CMU’s 439 fixed term faculty and 591 graduate assistants will still hold classes as scheduled.

The impact of the FA’s action places an unfair burden on students who want to graduate in a timely fashion, pursue graduate school or launch successful careers. As such, CMU will request a court injunction Monday to get the faculty back in the classroom.

CMU remains committed to working with the FA toward a contract that is fair and equitable to all parties. CMU and the FA have both petitioned for fact finding, which is the appropriate process to follow in coming to terms on a collective bargaining agreement.

 

The Detroit Free Press reports the strike came after a week of concentrated negotiations:

The move tops a weeklong, last-ditch effort to come to some sort of agreement between the more than 600 members of the union and the school.

The union voted on Monday to authorize the bargaining team to take any job related actions, including a strike.

After that vote, the two sides sat down at the bargaining table every day last week, but made little to no progress on the big issues separating them, such as pay and benefits.

Ford Motor Company

DETROIT (AP) - The head of the United Auto Workers union says if his members agree to profit-sharing instead of pay raises from Detroit's automakers, the companies will have to write bigger checks than they do now.

UAW workers at General Motors got $4,300 profit-sharing checks this year, while Ford paid out $5,000 and Chrysler paid $750.

President Bob King has told The Associated Press that profit-sharing or other flexible methods of compensation will be discussed when the union formally begins contract talks with the Big Three next week.

Yet King, who has preached cooperation with the companies over confrontation, said that while he wants workers to be fairly compensated, he also wants deals that keep down the companies' fixed costs so they are competitive with foreign-based automakers.

Arbitrators would be required to give top consideration to the ability of local governments to pay public workers during contract disputes with police and fire fighters unions.

That’s under adjustments to binding arbitration laws approved by the Legislature and sent to Governor Rick Snyder.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville: 

“I think the ability to pay piece is probably the most significant. Whereas it’s been in statute all along, this just strengthens it, puts it up front, and actually further defines it.”

The Legislature Senate is debating several other hot button issues before lawmakers take a two-month summer break.

They include proposed changes to teacher tenure rules, and redrawing the state’s political maps.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Republicans in the Michigan Senate have approved a bill that would freeze pay and benefits for union-represented public employees including teachers working under expired contracts.

The bill that passed by a 21-17 mostly party-line vote Wednesday now returns to the Republican-led House, which already has passed the bill and could soon send it to Gov. Rick Snyder.

The bill calls for public employers to provide no more than current pay and benefits after the expiration date of a collective bargaining agreement until a new contract is in place. It would eliminate or freeze so-called step increases sometimes paid by school districts regardless of contract status.

Democrats say the bill dabbles in issues that should be left to local decision-makers.

Republicans say the changes would give unions more incentive to bargain.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of labor union supporters rallied against attacks on collective bargaining rights in Detroit Monday.

The rally was one of dozens nationwide commemorating Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination.

King was killed during a 1968 trip to Memphis to support that city’s striking black sanitation workers. National labor leaders are highlighting this lesser-known part of King’s legacy as they fight new state laws that restrict unions’ collective bargaining rights.

Canton resident Natalie Mosher came to the downtown Detroit rally. She says Governor Snyder and state Republicans have gone too far.

"I’m here to support all working people. I was a former teacher and I think what is happening in Michigan today is just not acceptable.”

The Governor recently signed a bill granting Emergency Financial Managers broad powers, including the right to throw out union contracts.

Former Delphi worker Stacey Kemp drove from near Saginaw to attend the rally. Kemp says everyone should be concerned about the many new state laws that restrict workers’ right to collective bargaining.

“Whether they’re union or non-union, this is going to directly affect all middle and working-class people. If they’re allowed to get away with this, we might as well just kiss our grandchildren goodbye, and they’re going to live in a third-world country.”

The AFL-CIO and other organizers say the King-inspired rallies are part of a continued campaign to fight that law and similar measures in other states.

Pobrecito33 / Flickr

The fight over workers’ rights in Wisconsin and Ohio has become familiar fodder for news stories in recent days. But labor leaders in this state say Republicans in Michigan are just as hostile to unions.

UAW President Bob King says you need look no further than Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal to see an attack on workers, seniors and the poor.

King says Snyder’s proposal to eliminate an income tax credit for the working poor, to cut the child care subsidy for low-income families, and to tax pensions are key examples.

"This governor has talked nicely, but these actions suggest he’s same agenda with every other Republican across this country," King said at a press conference today.

King says Snyder has also made some anti-union moves.

He says the Snyder administration is undermining bargaining rights for home health and day care workers. And Snyder supports legislation that would allow emergency financial managers to set aside union contracts, and suspend collective bargaining in troubled cities and school districts.

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