unions

Union leaders at General Motors' factories across the U.S. are endorsing a tentative contract with the automaker. 

In an unprecedented press conference yesterday, UAW President Bob King discussed details of the 4-year-contract. The rank-and-file will vote in the coming days. General Motors is the first automaker to reach a deal with the UAW. And,  these negotiations are the first since the federal government stepped in to help GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy in 2009.

We caught up with Tracy Samilton, Michigan Radio's auto reporter, to talk about the tentative contract and what it means for GM, the UAW, and the state's economy.

user meddygarnet / Flickr

Registered nurses who work at the University of Michigan Health System and their supports say they will march to the University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting today at 2:30 p.m. They will start at the Michigan Union and "proceed to the Fleming Adminisration Building" (distance - about a block).

The Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) says the University of Michigan nurses have been working without a contract since July 1.

From an MNA press release:

Despite another profitable year and an increase in patients, UMHS have thwarted reasonable contract negotiations with the system’s 4,000 registered nurses by proposing cuts that would make it even more difficult for them to maintain patient care and safety.

The University has issued a statement in the past saying they "prefer not bargain in the media" and  "respectfully disagree" that proposed labor changes would have a negative effect on patient care.

Issues being debated include pay increases, health insurance, and benefits.

Governor Rick Snyder has some intense opposition, but it hasn’t risen to the levels of protest against his two newly elected GOP neighbors and colleagues, Governors John Kasich in Ohio and Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

And there’s a reason for that. Snyder has been both politically smarter and less ideological than those men. He says he is interested in results, not in settling scores. He’s been pushing through reforms that haven’t made public employee unions happy.

But he says he is not interested in taking away the unions’  collective bargaining rights. Some of the more conservative Republicans in the legislature are trying to push so-called “right to work” legislation, which would outlaw union shops in Michigan.

But Snyder says he has no interest in that. Which, even if you are against unions, is very smart. Union membership and clout have been declining for years. They now represent barely seven percent of workers in the private sector.

The Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation & Archives

This Friday many of us head into a three day weekend that marks the unofficial end of summer. We might mark Labor Day with a family picnic, one last summer visit to the beach, or maybe with a mad scramble to get that last bit of school preparation done. But what is Labor Day really for? Joining us to take a look is Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst, Jack Lessenberry.

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.

Central Michigan University says there’s been some progress involving contract talks with the faculty union this weekend. The progress has been related to non-economic issues, but there’s still a big gap having to do with pay and benefits.

Talks took place Saturday. Classes are scheduled to start Monday on the Mount Pleasant campus.

The faculty union has a meeting planned Sunday afternoon to discuss whether or not to hold a job action. A job action could include a strike over the failure to reach a labor contract. The professors have been without a contract since June.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

About two dozen union members demonstrated outside the Jackson office of Republican congressman Tim Walberg. The protest was as much about the 2012 election as it was about the budget fight in Washington.   

Some passing motorists honked their horns, showing solidarity with protesters outside Congressman Tim Walberg’s office. The protesters, like teacher’s assistant Glenda Wells, say Walberg has sided too often with special business interests at the expense of working men and women. 

 “He says he’s for the  people…then he needs to prove it.” 
 

Five public employee unions say they will bargain with the state as a single unit on economic issues. Governor Rick Snyder is asking the unions to find $260 million in savings.   

Cindy Estrada with the UAW says there is a common assumption that when the state asks for savings from unions, that means employee wages will be docked or workers will be laid off. But she says that should not be the case.  

“That doesn’t just happen by coming to workers and saying ‘you need to give back.’ It happens by looking at what are the real problems in the state.”         

Public employee unions representing more than half of the state’s workers say there are structural changes that should be made. And they say the changes could save the state more than Governor Rick Snyder asked for. Those changes include reducing the number of managers compared to frontline workers and fewer privatized contracts for public services.

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration and state employee unions have begun a new round of contract negotiations.

The Snyder administration has set a big savings target -- $265 million - or an average of about $6,000 per state worker.

Jan Winter is the governor’s lead negotiator. She says saving $265 million in employee costs will be tough.

“Go the table, work as hard as you can. A lot of things can happen and we’re counting on working out good deals here.”

Winter says one idea is to ask state employees to pay more for their benefits.

“One of the things that we have looked at, clearly, moving to something like an 80/20 split on a health plan would mean well over $100 million in gross savings. We have a lot of ideas, and we’re hopeful the unions have lots of ideas, too.”

Cindy Estrada is the lead negotiator for UAW Local Six Thousand, the biggest state employee union.

She says workers are also looking to fix the state’s budget troubles.

“We want to create a Michigan, a state that in 10 years to come is more efficient, has better quality for the citizens that receive those services, and I think we can do that – if workers and management get together and we look for new solutions and we be really creative and stick to the commitment that we’re going to make structural changes, we can get there, definitely.

But Estrada says the savings should not come out of state employees’ benefits or paychecks since they’ve given up nearly $4 billion in concessions over the past decade.

The unions say state government could find big savings if it reduced the number of managers and outside contracts.

Later this month, contact talks are set to begin between the United Auto Workers’ union and Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.

There’s a temptation to feel nostalgic about that. This has been a time-honored tradition in Detroit since the 1940s. Every three years, negotiations began, and the union selected a strike target.

That target could have been any one of what were then referred to as the Big Three. Negotiations followed a system called “pattern bargaining,” which meant the union and the selected company would battle things out to a settlement.

Sometimes a deal could be reached without a strike; sometimes not. Once a deal was reached, the other two automakers would settle with the union on essentially the same terms.

During the glorious fat years of postwar prosperity, the bargaining scenario also followed a predictable pattern.  When negotiations began, the company would offer the union the equivalent of a crust of bread. The union would demand the moon, plus a kitchen sink with gold-plated handles. Eventually, with or without a strike, they’d reach a deal where the union got the moon, but had to settle for a sink with plain old chromium handles.

Walter Reuther would then promise to get the gold-plated ones in the next contract, and he usually would. But everything is different now. Chrysler and GM went through a near-death experience two years ago. As part of the price for the federal government’s saving them, the UAW had to agree not to strike either company.

The only thing they can do in the case of a grievance is ask for binding arbitration. The union could theoretically strike Ford, but now that all automakers aren’t on an equal playing field that’s unlikely.

But the UAW does face two immense new challenges.

Joe Gratz / Flickr

In a blow to unions’ political fundraising, the Republican-led state Supreme Court has ruled automatic deductions from the paychecks of public employees for political donations is illegal. The GOP majority reversed a decision made by the court last December, when Democrats controlled the court.

The Michigan Education Association’s political action committee is fueled by contributions from teachers and school employees who agree to have their donations deducted automatically by the school district from their paychecks.

The Republican justices ruled that’s a violation of Michigan’s campaign finance law because public resources are used to support a political activity. They said it’s not enough for the union to reimburse school districts for the costs of administering the check-off system.

Democrats say the school districts did not spend any money on politics, and complained it appears the only reason the court reconsidered the decision is because the partisan majority changed as a result of last year’s elections.

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.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Flint's new city budget begins July first.  But it's still not clear if city employees will be laid off to make the numbers work.    The Flint city council approved the city's budget on Monday.   The spending plan is based partly on a 15% wage and benefit concession by Flint's city unions.   Concessions that the unions have not agreed too. 

Even though the new budget takes effect July 1st, Flint mayor Dayne Walling insists layoffs are not imminent.   He says decisions on possible staff cuts will be based on monthly reviews of Flint's budget situation.  

 “There is a reality that you can only spend a dollar one time.    And once that dollar gets spent…than its not available for services in January or next Spring.”   

Flint has already laid off dozens of city employees during the past year, as the city struggles with a multi-million dollar budget deficit.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

For the first time, a state appointed emergency manager has permission to void a union contract in a Michigan city. The state Treasurer’s office gave its approval to Pontiac’s emergency manager Monday to void the city’s police dispatchers’ contract.   Pontiac’s policing duties are being taken over by the Oakland County sheriff’s department. 

Robert Sedler is a constitutional law professor at Wayne State University.  He believes the courts would find the decision to void the contract a ‘reasonable’ one. 

 “What I think makes this reasonable in the Pontiac situation is that it is part of a transfer of law enforcement from the city of Pontiac to the sheriff.”

 The Michigan legislature expanded the powers of state appointed emergency managers this year. 

There are numerous groups considering legal challenges to the law.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Time is running out for the city of Lansing to win new contract concessions from its labor unions.  Meanwhile, another round of layoff notices will soon go to some city employees.  

Lansing’s mayor’s office continues to negotiate with union leaders seeking 3 million dollars in concessions before the city’s new budget takes effect July 1st.   Mayor Virg Bernero says the city and the unions are talking in good faith to avoid possible layoffs.  

State employee unions are calling on lawmakers to approve government reforms that the unions say would save the state tens of millions of dollars.

A labor organization report says Michigan government has too many managers compared to workers who directly deliver services to the public. It also says the state spends more on outside contracts than it does on its civil service workforce.

Phil Thompson, with union SEIU 517M, says he knows time is running short to influence lawmakers on the current budget.

"Realistically we understand that the elements in this report aren’t going to be able to be handled in the next week or so. What we want to do is set the foundation for an intelligent, in-depth discussion that will generate savings in fiscal 2012, but more importantly to generate millions of dollars in savings in future years."

The state employee unions say efficiencies could save the state about $185 million dollars in the coming year, if lawmakers approved the changes before October.

Recall battle

May 20, 2011
(Official state portrait)

Thousands of people are expected to descend on the state capitol on Saturday to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s policies.    Organizers plan to kick off a petition campaign to have the governor recalled from office.  

(official portrait)

Governor Rick Snyder may hear some jeers when he speaks at this week’s commencement ceremony at the University of Michigan.  Unions and other groups plan to rally outside Michigan Stadium during the governor’s speech.

  Rob Gillezeau is the president of the Graduate Employees Organization.  His group and others plan to voice their displeasure over cuts to education funding and the voiding of union contracts.  

user brother o'mara / Flickr

State seeks concessions from unionized corrections workers

In these austere times, governments large and small are seeking to save money by getting union workers to reduce the benefits and/or wages.

The State of Michigan is seeking $95 million in concessions from those unionized employees who work in state prisons.

From the Associated Press:

The amount requested from the Michigan Corrections Organization represents more than half of the $180 million in concessions Gov. Rick Snyder wants from state employees in the budget year that starts Oct. 1, The Lansing State Journal reported Monday.

The union's members make up about 16 percent of the state's work force, but are being asked to make 53 percent of concessions. Michigan Corrections Organization executive director Mel Grieshaber criticized the state's actions.

"We are in sticker shock right now," he told the newspaper. "It's not fair. Our membership is angry about it. . . . It's very offensive. You won't find a more dangerous job in state government."

Kurt Weiss, A spokesman for the Office of the State Employer, the agency that oversees all collective bargaining negotiations for the state, said the Department of Corrections is the "only major state department in which employees are solely funded by the general fund," and Governor Snyder is trying to close a $1.4 billion dollar budget gap in the general fund.

Ford Motor Company has a solid first quarter

Ford announced is best first quarter earnings since 1998. According to the Detroit News, the first quarter earnings were...

$2.6 billion, or 61 cents per share.

The results, an increase of $466 million over the first quarter of 2010, far exceeded analysts' expectations of about 50 cents per share.

Operating profit of $2.8 billion was the strongest for a first-quarter since 2004 and $2.1 billion of that was from automotive operations as consumers continue to embrace the automaker's vehicles, which include new and fuel efficient models. Total revenue was $33.1 billion, up $5 billion from the same period in 2010.

"Our team delivered a great quarter, with solid growth and improvements in all regions," Chief Executive Alan Mulally said.

And unlike the gas price spike in 2008, Ford Motor Company and the other domestic automakers are much more prepared for the current price spike with more choices for smaller, fuel efficient cars... 

Michigan's average gas price above $4 per gallon

It hasn't happened since 2008. That was the year gas prices shot up and consumers started looking for smaller cars. AAA Michigan says the statewide average for gasoline is $4.04.

From the Associated Press:

The auto club says Tuesday that prices for self-serve unleaded fuel rose 6 cents per gallon since Monday to a statewide average of $4.04. That's $1.20 per gallon higher than last year at this time. AAA Michigan says the last time the average hit $4 was Sept. 19, 2008, when it was $4.03 per gallon.

Dearborn-based AAA Michigan surveys 2,800 Michigan gas stations daily. It typically releases its gas prices report each Monday. But the auto club says it decided to put out a special edition of its gas prices report Tuesday because the average topped $4 a gallon.

user brother o'mara / Flickr

New emergency financial manager powers to be used in Detroit?

The controversial new law that gives state-appointed emergency financial managers more power could first be used in the Detroit Public School system.

Detroit Public School Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said he intends to use the law.

From the Detroit Free Press:

"I fully intend to use the authority that was granted," Bobb said, referring to a new law that gives emergency managers the authority to modify -- or terminate -- collective bargaining agreements. It was the first time Bobb had publicly indicated he intends to use the expanded authority.

This statement came after all teachers in the Detroit Public School system were sent a layoff notices yesterday. As Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported, sending layoff notices to all the teachers is unprecedented, but final decisions on whose job will actually be cut have yet to be made.

Teachers, in the meantime, say they're prepared to fight Bobb's proposals - from the Freep:

"If he tries to modify the contract and back-door us on the issue of seniority, we are aptly prepared," said DFT President Keith Johnson, who also will receive a layoff notice. "We have already prepared our legal counter."

House fails to reject partner benefits

There weren't enough votes in the State House to reverse the Civil Service Commission's decision to allow health benefits for the live-in partners of state employees.

The benefits are scheduled to take effect this October.

Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta reported that Republicans say the decision "undermines 'traditional families' and violates the intent of a voter-approved amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan."

Attorney General Schuette is looking into that last claim, and House Speaker Jase Bolger says he'll continue to look for other ways to block the benefits.

Flags at half staff today for Navy medic from Niles

Benjamin D. Rast was killed in Afghanistan. Flags around the state will be at half staff today.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder has ordered U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of a 23-year-old Navy medic from southwest Michigan who was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The order is in effect for today.

The military says 23-year-old Benjamin D. Rast of Niles died April 6. He was assigned as a hospitalman to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.

There will be a visitation today at Brandywine High School in Niles and a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the school.

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