(courtesy City of Detroit)

Detroit’s mayor says the city’s unions will have to give big contract concessions or the city of Detroit may end up in the hands of a state appointed Emergency Financial Manager. Mayor Dave Bing outlined his budget plan to the city council this morning.

Bing says pension and health care costs threaten to force the city into insolvency.  

“If we are unable or unwilling to make these changes, an Emergency Financial Manager will be appointed by the state to make them for us.  It’s that simple.”  

The city is facing a $155 million budget deficit. The mayor says that could grow to over a billion dollars in five years, unless deep cuts are made now. 

Michigan’s new Emergency Financial Manager law gives the state appointed administrator broad powers to throw out union contracts and make budget decisions.

The American Civil Liberties Union wants to know more about the creation of Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager law. The legislation gives broad new powers to managers appointed by the state to run financially troubled cities and school districts. Those powers include voiding union contracts. 

Kary Moss is with the ACLU of Michigan. She says the ACLU is filing Freedom of Information requests to learn more about who wrote the law. 

“This legislation was passed and signed pretty quickly.   And all that we are trying to do right now is get some more information about ‘What prompted it?’, ‘How is it going to be implemented?’, just so the public can have more information."

Moss says they also want to know who was involved in drafting the legislation. 

"Who was really at the table…when it was drafted...andconceived and discussed.”

Governor Snyder says the law encourages cities and school districts to make financial changes, before an Emergency Financial Manager would be appointed.

The governor’s office has not commented on the ACLU request.

Opponents of an Ohio law to limit public workers' collective bargaining rights have started gathering signatures to get a referendum on the measure. Governor John Kasich signed the measure Thursday. It bans public worker strikes, eliminates binding arbitration, and restricts bargaining for 350,000 public workers.

The bill was supported by the Republican majority in the Legislature and by business groups and tea party activists. They say it's needed to help Ohio economically. Unions and Democrats opposed it.

The bipartisan coalition leading the petition drive will need more than 230,000 valid signatures by June 30 to put a referendum on November's ballot.

Rise in UAW membership

Apr 1, 2011
Pobrecito33 / Flickr

The United Auto Workers union is gaining members again after years of declines, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

In a filing with the U.S. Department of Labor, the union said Thursday that it had 376,612 members in 2010, up 6 percent from 355,191 in 2009. That's the first time since 2004 that the union has gained members.

UAW President Bob King said the growth was due to more hiring in the auto industry as it recovered from the recession. The union also has had some success organizing workers outside the auto industry, such as graduate students and casino dealers.

The peak of membership was in 1979 with 1.5 million union members.

A state law that would require punishment for Michigan teachers who go on strike appears to be on a fast-track in the state legislature, Steve Carmody reports. Republican State Representative Bill Rogers has authored one of two bills that would require a two year license suspension and a large daily fine for striking teachers. Carmody reports:

Rogers expects the anti-teacher strike bills will move quickly through the legislature and may reach the governor's desk before a possible statewide teachers' strike next month. The state's largest teachers' union is mulling possible job actions, including teacher walk-outs, to protest cuts in school funding and other issues.

A press release on Rep. Rogers' website explains the rationale behind the measures:

Teacher strikes put the education of students and teachers' jobs at risk and have recently been encouraged by Michigan Education Association (MEA) President Iris Salters. Striking is illegal in Michigan, although penalties for doing so are hard to enforce.

House Bill 4466... will fine the Michigan Education Association $5,000 per teacher for each full or partial day that public school employees are engaged in a strike or strike like activities. The bill also orders employees to pay a fine in the amount equal to one day of pay for every day or partial day in which an employee participates in a strike...

House Bill 4465... requires that state superintendents suspend a teacher's license for a period of two years or permanently revoke their license, if caught breaking existing strike laws.

"This legislation discourages teachers from striking by putting teeth into the current strike law," said Rogers, R-Brighton. "We need to put the focus back onto educating our children. Children are the ones who suffer from teacher strikes and this legislation makes sure those who choose to participate face consequences for their actions."

Governor Snyder says he hopes teachers won’t authorize their union to call a statewide strike in response to his budget plans. Snyder proposed a $470 per-pupil-cut in state education spending earlier this year.

State lawmakers are on a Spring break until April 11th.

Public school teachers protesting in Lansing on February 26th, 2011.

Governor Rick Snyder says he hopes teachers won’t authorize their union to call a statewide strike in response to his budget plans.

The Michigan Education Association is in the process of collecting answers to a member inquiry.

The MEA is querying its 155,000 members and 1,100 local bargaining units.

Union members are mad over Michigan’s new emergency manager law that could threaten collective bargaining agreements in financially troubled school districts. And many of them oppose Governor Snyder’s proposed big cuts to K-through-12 education and requiring teachers to pay more for their pensions and health coverage.

The governor says he’s confident the controversies will not spill over to classrooms.

"We have fabulous teachers in our state and I have confidence that the teachers in our state understand, and really appreciate – because they’re doing it for a living – that the most important thing in front of them is the students they’re teaching, and I don’t think they’ll look at using their students as a pawn in a broader game," said Snyder.

It is illegal for teachers and other public employees to strike in Michigan, but the MEA says cuts in school funding and rollbacks in collecting bargaining rights may demand drastic actions.

They've asked its bargaining units to authorize job actions that could include picketing or walkouts.

They expect to have all responses in hand by mid-April.

You may not have noticed, but the United Auto Workers union has been holding its bargaining convention in Detroit this week.

Every four years, union leaders get together to plan and map out their strategy for negotiating a new contract with the automakers. Once, this convention was an enormous deal, intensely covered by both local and national labor media.

The big question every time was - which company would be the strike target?

Years ago, the union came up with the concept of “pattern bargaining.”  One company - Ford, General Motors, or Chrysler, would be selected as the target. Union officials would then try and hammer out a contact with that automaker first.

Sometimes they’d have to go on strike to achieve that; sometimes not. Meanwhile, the workers at the other companies would keep working under the old labor agreements.

Once the new contract was finally hammered out, the unions would then go to the other two automakers and say -- “okay; this is what we negotiated with them; this is what you need to agree to as well.  No fooling around; take it or leave it; sign or we walk.”

That’s how it’s been done for many, many years. In the past, there were sometimes historic strikes which led to historic settlements that gradually won the workers everything from paid vacations to profit sharing to dental care, on top of high wages.

But as all the world knows, excesses and globalization caught up with the auto companies. General Motors and Chrysler nearly went out of business less than two years ago. They survived in part because the union was willing to make major concessions.

New hires, for example, now make half of what a longtime autoworker  does -- $14 an hour, or $29,000 a year. The union decided that and other sacrifices were  necessary to keep their employers alive.

Well, the world is different now. Ford and General Motors are now making profits in the billions. Chrysler is believed close to profitability, and at any rate, has a new owner with deep pockets.

The State Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing committee tomorrow will discuss a bill forcing government workers to pay between 20% to 25% of their health care costs.

Joe Gratz / Flickr

A judge has temporarily blocked Wisconsin's controversial new law affecting collective bargaining rights in the state. Here the update from the New York Times:

A judge issued a temporary restraining order on Friday that prevents Wisconsin’s new law cutting collective bargaining rights for public workers from taking effect, at least for now.

The decision, issued by Judge Maryann Sumi of the Dane County Circuit Court, temporarily bars Wisconsin’s secretary of state from publishing the controversial law, one of the procedural requirements for it to come into effect in the state.

Publication had been expected late next week, but Judge Sumi’s ruling delays that until at least March 29, when she plans to hold a full hearing on a lawsuit that questions the validity of the collective bargaining law based on the speedy manner in which it was carried out earlier this month.

An appeal is possible even before then.

Opponents of the measure said they hoped the decision was but the first of many that would ultimately undo legislation that has split the state and drawn tens of thousands of demonstrators to the state capital over a matter of many weeks.

Supporters of the measure, however, said the judge’s decision was merely a blip, certain to be overturned as various legal efforts make their way fully through the court system.

Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker has said that the law will shield taxpayers and improve Wisconsin's business climate.

-Brian Short, Michigan Radio Newsroom

(courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Governor Rick Snyder says he expects teams of financial experts will soon start visiting cities and school districts showing early signs of financial stress. That’s part of the new state’s new fiscal emergency law he just signed.

Critics say the law gives too much authority to emergency managers appointed to run local governments that can no longer pay their bills. But the governor says too little attention has been paid to the early assistance the state is offering to local governments. 

(courtesy of the Michigan State Senate, Democratic Caucus)

Democrats in the state Legislature want to voters to decide whether collective bargaining rights should be protected in the Michigan Constitution. But they will need a two-thirds majority in a Republican-led House and Senate to get the question on the ballot.   

State Senator Bert Johnson says without a constitutional amendment, collective bargaining rights are subject to change. 

(courtesy of the Michigan governor's office)

Governor Snyder’s office has just announced he plans to sign the controversial Emergency Financial Manager bills this afternoon. Unions oppose the bills, because they will enable state appointed financial managers to void union contracts in cities and school districts with serious financial problems.


Senior citizens and union members are expected to rally tomorrow at the state Capitol to protest Governor Rick Snyder’s budget plans.

Seniors are taking aim at the governor’s proposal to start levying the income tax on pensions.

Michigan is one of four states that does not tax pensions.

Seniors say it’s not fair to tax pensions at the same time Snyder wants to reduce taxes overall on businesses.

But the governor says seniors who use state services and can afford to pay should share the tax burden:

"Because our population is continuing to age and we want a simple, fair tax system.

The idea here is lower-income people, whether you’re a senior or not, hopefully you’re not going to pay any income tax and we’ve structured the system to do that.

For people with higher incomes, we want something that’s simple, fair, and efficient," says Snyder.

The governor says he is open to compromise on details of his budget, but overall he stands by his plan. 

Governor Snyder has also called for cuts to public schools, local governments and state employee compensation.

State employee unions say budget plans that require them to take cuts while Governor Snyder’s department directors earn as much as $250,000 a year are not fair (that's how much Snyder's Budget Director, John Nixon, makes).

Stephen Reck is with SEIU Local 517M – a union that represents state workers:

"Now, I’m not saying the new director isn’t worth $250,000.

If you’re going to attract and retain good people, you’ve got to pay them a fair wage, and that goes for state employees whether an engineer, a scientist, a clerical worker, or a budget director, but be consistent and that’s all we’re asking."

In addition to the seniors and unions expected to protest tomorrow, another rally is planned for Wednesday by a group calling itself  "Working Michigan."

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Update 2:31 p.m.:

A spokesperson from the Governor’s office responded via email with the following:

"The proposed budget and tax plan is based on fairness and preserving core safety net services – while improving and strengthening our economy so ALL can prosper and benefit."

2:06 p.m.:

A handful of people gathered in Ann Arbor on Monday to speak against Governor Snyder’s proposed budget for an event organized by Progress Michigan, a progressive organization. The speakers included union representatives, city officials, and individuals.

Lois Richardson is Mayor Pro-Tem of Ypsilanti and voiced criticism of the budget. She says cuts to revenue sharing and historic tax credits will devastate Ypsilanti and other cities. Richardson says the changes will affect everyone in the state of Michigan, not just those who relied directly on the funding.

Brit Satchwell is the President of the Ann Arbor teacher’s union. He says students will feel the cuts the most:

“I’m a sixth grade math teacher and I’m here to tell you, the kids don’t get a makeover year. You don’t get to do sixth grade again because the adults messed it up.”

Satchwell also said school districts like Ann Arbor have already been cutting their budgets for the past few years.

This was one of several events held across the state in preparation for a protest scheduled for Wednesday at the Capitol.

-Bridget Bodnar, Michigan Radio News

Thetoad / Flickr

More protests are expected this week at the state Capitol as lawmakers continue to debate new rules for cities and school districts that run into trouble paying their bills.

The controversy is one of the first big showdowns between Republicans and Democrats this year over government reforms.

Unions and Democrats have pretty much given up on trying to stop the measures. They’ve turned their efforts to limiting its scope to protect bargaining rights, as well as cap emergency manager salaries, and require them to periodically meet with the public – so far without any luck.

Doug Withey is a Teamsters bargainer.

“Every community in the state, every governing body has an open meeting. Have the public involved with that. Nope. Not reasonable. Vote it down.”

But Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville say an emergency takeover would be the last option after all else has failed.

“The intent of the legislation is to get into an emergency situation and fix it before it becomes a catastrophe.”

Governor Rick Snyder says his goal is not more state takeovers.

 “Anytime you have an emergency manager come in, that’s a failure point. The best answer is to put in a better early-warning system – to figure out how to work with communities before they reach the point of needing a financial manager because a lot of things can be done in those earlier stages to avoid the issue and that’s the best answer.”

Right now, Richardville, Governor Snyder and Republicans have the numbers they need in the Legislature to prevail.

User P.E.C. / Flickr

A teachers’ union leader says a proposal in the Legislature to give emergency financial managers sweeping control over school districts is a bad deal for educators.

The Michigan Senate approved the bills this week that would dissolve union contracts and eliminate collective bargaining rights at the local level if an emergency manager were put in control of a school district, city or township.

David Hecker is vice president of the Michigan division of the American Teachers Federation union. He says many financial problems can be better addressed through collective bargaining.

Hecker appeared on public television’s “Off The Record.”

“It either eliminates or severely undercuts collective bargaining – so it hurts the middle class – and it also hurts education. Because, you know, the problem with the EFM bill is if it’s an issue – and it’s an issue, there are districts and there are cities who are in financial difficulties – but you just don’t throw out a solution. You figure out what the problem is, and then you craft a solution.”

“We rather Governor Snyder work with us, we all work with the Legislature, and we work in support of communities, we work in support of the middle class, we work in support of our students. We think the EFM bill works against communities, works against the middle class, and is not good for our students. So Governor Snyder has a choice. We rather work together than become Wisconsin.”

“If people think we need this hammer to come to the table to say ‘yeah, health care costs are increasing, we have to address it. The school district’s in debt, we have to address it,’ we already do that at the table. You know, what do you say to a secretary of Detroit Public Schools who makes 22-thousand dollars a year and just took a three-percent pay cut?”

The House is expected to vote on the emergency financial manager bills next week. Governor Rick Snyder called for the reforms in his State of the State address.

Sheldon Dick / Farm Security Administration

Are the Wisconsin protests becoming public employees’ equivalent of the Sit Down Strike in Flint, Michigan?

Professor Steven Ashby at the University of Illinois made the comparison Wednesday on Changing Gears’ partner station WBEZ.

Speaking with Alison Cuddy, the host of 848, Professor Ashby said the Wisconsin protests may be seen as historically significant as the events at General Motors in 1936 and 1937.

It’s an interesting analogy, because the sit down strike resonates with labor historians as the moment that the fledgling United Automobile Workers took root at the Detroit car companies.

And, while Flint got the most attention for the sit down strike there, the protests actually spread from Atlanta to Kansas City and Cleveland, just as the protests in Wisconsin have resulted in others across the Great Lakes states.

In the same way that Flint helped the UAW, Professor Ashby argues that the protests in Madison have given public — and private sector — unions a rallying point. Whether they can lead to preserving or growing union membership remains to be seen, however.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to know more about what went on in Flint, the Detroit News has a compendium of the strike here. And you can hear voices of some of the sit down strikers here.

Do you remember the sit down strike, or do you have relatives who took part? We’d love to hear your memories or any stories they’ve handed down.

The Michigan Senate passed the bill that around 1,000 union members loudly asked them not to pass.

From the Detroit News:

Legislation that would allow emergency financial managers to throw out union contracts and overrule elected officials in financially distressed municipalities and school districts was approved in the Senate today.

The measure passed 26-12 along party lines in the Republican-controlled chamber. Similar bills passed in the House in late February. The chambers must now agree on a final version to send to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature. More than 1,000 union members demonstrated opposition to the bills Tuesday, chanting loudly outside the chamber doors as senators worked through details of the legislation.


More than a thousand union members crowded into the state Capitol today.

They were protesting a proposal to give emergency financial managers more control over cities, townships, or school districts.

The labor movement is upset the bills would eliminate collective bargaining rights and dissolve union contracts.

The gavel reverberated in the Senate chamber as protesters in the gallery cheered, breaking the rules that prohibit demonstration during session.

They applauded Senate Majority Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer as she condemned the proposal for not having a salary cap.

Whitmer says it does not make sense “to vote for a bill that allows an emergency financial manager to make more than our governor.”

Outside of the chamber, hundreds of workers packed the three open floors of surrounding the Capitol rotunda – a scene similar to the pictures of protestors in Madison-Wisconsin.

They screamed for the recall of Republican lawmakers who support the emergency-manager bills.

But republican lawmakers appeared unfazed by the raucous crowd, and they plan to move forward with the proposal they say will keep many cities and school districts out of financial ruin.

Matthileo / Flickr

Update 1:44 p.m.

The Detroit News reports the Michigan Senate is expected to pass the Emergency Financial Manager bill despite the protests taking place in the capitol. From the Detroit News:

A bill to give broad authority to emergency financial managers to fix a governing body's finances is expected to pass in the Senate on Wednesday despite boisterous union protests that punctuated today's session.

Senate Republicans voted down more than 20 Democratic amendments as more than 1,000 union members chanted "Kill the Bill" outside the Senate chamber. Their chants were audible as the chamber debated the bill, as were the catcalls of protesters crammed into the gallery above the Senate floor.

The union members protesting the bill say it would make emergency financial managers too powerful, "allowing them to toss out union contracts, overrule elected officials and dissolve city councils and school boards."

10:59 a.m.

Protesters have arrived at the state Capitol to show their opposition to a measure that would give more power to Emergency Financial Managers. Laura Weber sent this report from Lansing:

The state Capitol is jammed this morning with a raucous group of union members and supporters who are opposed to a proposal to grant more power to Emergency Financial Managers. Hundreds of protesters are chanting "kill the bill" loudly outside of the Michigan Senate chamber as lawmakers prepare to vote on the controversial measure.

Still hundreds more are on the Capitol lawn rallying against the emergency manager bills. The package of bills would strip unions of collective bargaining rights, and dissolve union contracts, if an emergency manager was put in place to take over the finances of a struggling city, township, or school district.

The Associated Press reports there are around 1,000 people demonstrating:

...protesters are at the Capitol objecting to bills that would give broad new powers to emergency financial managers appointed by the state to run struggling cities and schools.

The Senate plans to vote on the measures Tuesday. The House passed the bills two weeks ago.

Groups opposed to legislation they consider anti-union are holding the morning rally and also are chanting inside the Capitol.

Local officials warned during a Monday news conference that the financial manager measures would take away voters' rights by removing the authority of elected school board members, mayors and council members.

Workers warn that the bills could allow financial managers to terminate union contracts.

Supporters of the legislation say it would lead to earlier intervention in financially troubled communities and schools, avoiding bigger crises.