(Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Time is running out for Congress to pass a new federal transportation funding bill.

The last funding bill expired in 2009.   Congress has passed a series of extensions of the old law since then.  

A coalition of Michigan environmental groups and unions say the ongoing delay is hurting state roads.

Mark Schauer is the head of the BlueGreen Alliance.   The former Michigan congressman says the state’s roads are deteriorating, in part, because Congress can’t agree on a new six year federal transportation spending plan.

“I’m sure I’m not the only one that had to replace a tire as a result of hitting a huge pothole," says Schauer.

Michigan Congressmen Dave Camp and Fred Upton are on the special House-Senate conference committee working on the transportation bill. A spokeswoman for the committee says discussions continue with hopes of reaching an agreement before the deadline at the end of next month. 

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Flint Emergency Manager Mike Brown says the city plans to work more with the state police, as well as local and federal prosecutors, to fight the city’s crime problem.

The plan calls for establishing Flint not only as a ‘safe city’ in reality, but also in people’s perception.

Using outside law enforcement help is a short term part of the plan.   Long term, Brown says the city needs to raise millions of dollars in new revenue to hire more police officers and firefighters.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Contract talks are set to resume tomorrow between the American Red Cross and its two striking unions.

The strike that started March 30 has greatly slowed blood donations for large parts of Michigan.

The American Red Cross Great Lakes Blood Services Region tries to collect 700 units of blood a day. Since the strike began, they’ve only been able to collect about 100 units a day.   

About 200 members of the Office and Professional Employees International Union  and the Teamsters went on strike more than a week ago.   The union members have been working without a contract for several years.  

The unions say the two sides have not been able to resolve safety and collective bargaining issues. The Red Cross contends health care costs are the main sticking point in the unresolved contract.

The strike has affected blood collection in 65 Michigan counties, from Kalamazoo and Lansing to the northern parts of the state.       

Red Cross blood drives in southeast Michigan are unaffected.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Four Michigan unions are asking a federal judge to strike down a new state law barring school districts from collecting union dues through payroll deduction.  The unions filed the lawsuit today.

When he signed the law, Governor Snyder said it would ensure “public transparency” and make sure public resources are spent on their intended purposes.   

Lansing’s mayor says a combination of employee furlough days and union concessions are necessary to shrink a $4.7 million budget gap next year. He laid out his budget plan to the city council last night.

Mayor Virg Bernero blames rising health insurance costs and declining property tax revenues for the budget gap.

“We need to make some serious decisions," says Brian Jeffries,  the president of the Lansing City Council,  "(The decisions are) going to be painful.   Both in terms of the number of employees…as well as loss of services…and what does that actually means for the city.”

The Lansing city council has until mid-May to come up with any changes to the mayor’s spending plan.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Once again American Red Cross workers are poised to strike in Michigan.

The strike could affect 65 counties in Michigan.

Ten days ago, two unions gave notice of their intention to strike against the American Red Cross Great Lakes Blood Services Region. It would be the third job action in the last two years.

The union members have been working without a contract for the past four years. The two sides remain far apart on several issues.

Monica Stoneking is a Red Cross spokeswoman. She says the Great Lakes Blood Services Region must collect 700 units of blood a day to meet demand.

“If we have less blood drives being held…then that’s going to further impact our blood supply… and it’s already at a low level," says Stoneking.

Stoneking says if a strike takes place they will have to import blood from other Red Cross regions to meet the need.

A union-led effort to amend the Michigan Constitution to guarantee labor bargaining rights will go before a state elections panel today.

The Protect Our Jobs campaign will ask the Board of State Canvassers to pre-approve its petition to get on the November ballot.

U of M GEO

The issue of whether University of Michigan graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) can unionize has been put to rest. Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill today saying U of M research assistants are not employees and therefore do not have the right to unionize.

The bill was introduced to the legislature by Republican Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Update 4:15 pm

The Michigan legislature has passed a bill to prohibit public schools from automatically collecting union dues from the paychecks of teachers and other employees.

Republican Representative Joe Haveman says the bill’s intent is to focus schools on educating children.

 “The focus of our school administration has to be on teaching the kids.   Let’s get out of the business of collecting bills for other people," says Haveman.

Critics complain the real intent is to weaken teachers’ unions.

Going for Broke

Mar 7, 2012

For weeks, I heard rumors that a coalition of unions were going to try to get a state constitutional amendment on the ballot to prevent the legislature from making Michigan a so-called "right-to-work" state. That is, one where workers could no longer be required to join or pay dues to a union. Well, the unions revealed their proposal yesterday.

With the passage of so called right-to-work laws in Indiana, some Michigan lawmakers are now calling for those laws in Michigan.

Lawmakers in support of right-to-work laws say they’ll make Michigan a more business friendly environment.

Opponents call it union busting and an effort to weaken unions’ political power.

Michigan Radio’s political analyst, Jack Lessenberry gives us a historical perspective.

U of M GEO

Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a request with the state Supreme Court to stop a hearing about whether certain graduate students at the University of Michigan can unionize.

But the hearing was held today despite the request, and is scheduled to continue tomorrow.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Vice President Joe Biden says good paying manufacturing jobs are vital to the U.S. economy and the American Dream of home ownership and upward mobility.

Biden made his comments following a tour of American Seating Company in Grand Rapids. The company has been making seats for busses, trains and stadiums in West Michigan for more than a century.

“It’s not the only source of good paying jobs but I see no way in which we can meet that American commitment to that dream unless we once again reestablish ourselves as the manufacturing hub of the world with high end products,” Biden said.

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.


CORRECTION - An earlier version of this story stated that Right To Work legislation had already been introduced in the Michigan House. It has not. Representative Shirkey plans to introduce the legislation soon.


Right-to-work laws would prohibit workers from being required to join a union or pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.

Republican Rep. Mike Shirkey plans to introduce right-to-work legislation in the House.


Update 4:26 p.m.

Jennifer Dibbern, the former University of Michigan graduate student, spoke at a press conference this afternoon on U of M's north campus.

Dibbern worked as a graduate student research assistant while pursuing her doctoral degree in Materials Science and Engineering at the U of M.  She was also involved in the effort to form a union for research assistants.

Dibbern claims her advisor pulled Dibbern’s funding and kicked her out of the program because of her union activities:

"I think my story is one clear reason why we as research assistants need a union," says Dibbern. "I would really hope that me being able to come forward and talk with you all prevents this from happening to any other person, any other research assistant at this university."

There is an ongoing dispute over whether graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) have the right to organize. The U of M Board of Regents last May recognized RAs as public employees who have the right to vote to decide for themselves whether they want to form a union. That's in contrast to a 1981 decision by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC). GEO, the graduate employees union, is seeking to get that MERC ruling overturned. Trial hearing dates are set for Feb. 1-3, 2012.

Dibbern says she came to U of M because of its reputation as an excellent research institution, and she had hopes she'd get her doctorate degree. But she says because of the decision of her advisor, professor Rachel Goldman, she's no longer able to do that.

"My career path in the field that I’ve chosen and all the work that I’ve put into it has been lost; my career’s been ruined."

Rick Fitzgerald, a public relations official with the University of Michigan, was also at the press conference. He says Dibbern's case is "an academic matter" and by law can’t be discussed publicly. He says Dibbern’s claim that she was terminated is not true.

Dibbern claims she received positive feedback on her academic performance up until a few weeks before she was terminated.

Professor Rachel Goldman could not be reached for comment.

9:56 a.m.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - A University of Michigan graduate student claims she lost her job after supporting efforts to unionize graduate student research assistants.

The Detroit Free Press reports Wednesday that Jennifer Dibbern lost her research funding and was kicked out of her academic program. She tells the newspaper she wants to highlight a need to protect research assistants.

School spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said in a statement that "we believe certain of the union's factual claims are unfounded." He said the issue is an academic matter that the school is prohibited from discussing publicly.

Dibbern's work was in the College of Engineering.

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission in August affirmed a 1981 decision that bars research assistants from banding together. There's an ongoing dispute about whether that should be

Governor Rick Snyder has no interest in attempting to make Michigan a "right-to-work" state, which means one where it is illegal for employers to sign labor contracts requiring their workers to pay union dues. But some Republicans in the legislature disagree, and may try to get a right-to-work bill passed this year.

There’s also the possibility of trying to put something on the November ballot, a constitutional amendment, perhaps, that would outlaw the union shop in this state. It’s unclear whether there is really going to be any serious effort to make that happen.

DETROIT (AP) - A lawsuit aimed at recouping millions in union dues paid by Michigan child-care providers has fizzled.

A federal judge in Grand Rapids has issued two key rulings, including a recent decision that said there simply are too many conflicts to make it a class-action case. Judge Robert Jonker says there may be child-care providers who had no objection to paying dues. An appeal is planned.

The case centered on the representation of 40,000 home-based workers. The union was created in 2006, although only 15 percent of providers cast ballots. During the Granholm administration, officials deducted dues from subsidies paid to people who watched low-income kids.

Critics said the workers are not public employees and got no benefit from the union. Gov. Rick Snyder's administration stopped the dues last year.

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.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Union members and others picketed outside the offices of Michigan’s Republican congressmen today to protest the lack of a deal to extend unemployment benefits.

About three dozen protesters waved signs at honking motorists outside Congressman Mike Rogers Lansing office. They were there to draw attention to a deadline looming at the end of the month.

Sixty-six thousand Michiganders may lose their unemployment benefits in January if an extension is not passed