unions

Politics
2:07 pm
Fri March 18, 2011

Judge blocks controversial Wisconsin union bargaining law

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

Politics
4:26 pm
Thu March 17, 2011

Snyder hopes Emergency Manager law will help struggling cities and schools avoid takeovers

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R)
(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. 

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Politics
3:36 pm
Thu March 17, 2011

Democrats want to put collective bargaining right in state constitution

St. Sen. Bert Johnson, Detroit (D)
(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. 

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Politics
5:00 pm
Wed March 16, 2011

Snyder to sign Emergency Financial Managers bills at 5:30pm

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R)
(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.

Politics
6:04 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Snyder stands by budget plans in face of protests

Teachers protest in Lansing on February 26th, 2011.
mea.org

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."

Budget Protests
2:31 pm
Mon March 14, 2011

Ann Arbor rally one of many against state budget

Brit Satchwell says proposed budget cuts will hurt students
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

State Legislature
6:48 am
Mon March 14, 2011

Protests to continue at state Capitol

Protests are expected to continue at the state Capitol this week as lawmakers debate local takeover bills
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.

Politics
4:50 pm
Fri March 11, 2011

Unions say EFM bills bad for teachers

The scene in Lansing, from February 26
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.

Politics
3:31 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Are today's protests in Wisconsin similar to Flint's sit down strikes?

Strikers guarding window entrance to Fisher body plant number three. Flint, Michigan - 1937.
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.

Politics
1:46 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Michigan Senate passes controversial emergency manager bill

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.

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Politics
4:44 pm
Tue March 8, 2011

Unions clog Capitol over emergency manager bill

Teachers protest in Lansing on February 26th, 2011. There were more union protests today.
MEA

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.

State Legislature
1:44 pm
Tue March 8, 2011

Protesters begin to rally in Lansing

Protestors have arrived at the Capitol Building in Lansing, MI
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.

Education
4:07 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Judge rules taxpayers, Mackinac Center, do not have standing in lawsuit over privatization

Teacher's unions agreed to contribute to their health care premiums for the first time in the contract.
Chicago 2016 photos Creative Commons

A Kent County judge has ruled that taxpayers cannot sue school districts and teachers’ unions who agreed not to privatize any employees. The taxpayers say the schools and unions entered an illegal employment contract when the districts agreed not to privatize any employees in exchange for concessions in pay and health benefits. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s new Legal Foundation represented the taxpayers in the case.

The judge didn’t disagree with the Mackinac Center, but ruled only the parties in the contract – the unions or the school districts – had standing to file suit. And state law dictates the Michigan Employment Relations Commission must hear any unfair labor practice claims.

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Governor Snyder
6:40 am
Mon February 28, 2011

Snyder: Michigan is not Wisconsin

Governor Rick Snyder
Photo courtesy of www.governorelectricksnyder.com

Governor Rick Snyder is asking state workers to be patient as his administration tries to set Michigan’s fiscal affairs in order.

The governor sent an e-mail to state workers last week saying he does not want a Wisconsin-style confrontation. The e-mail was sent to 50,000 state employees.

Governor Snyder promised to work within the collective bargaining process on concessions to help balance the budget, and he complimented state workers on their dedication and creativity.

He specifically said,“Michigan is not Wisconsin,” and “tough decisions do not have to be polarizing.”

The governor said his goal is to stabilize Michigan’s finances so state workers don’t have to negotiate new concessions in the future to help address a financial emergency. And, Snyder hinted that future changes to public employee compensation might be in store. He said some public employees are overpaid, some underpaid, and he has some ideas on correcting that.

Politics
4:24 pm
Wed February 23, 2011

Protesters march again at state capitol

Corvair Owner Flickr

Protesters were in Lansing again today to speak out against several proposals in the Republican-controlled state Legislature that they say will strip unions of the rights. That includes a measure approved by the state House that would give more control to emergency financial managers appointed to run cities and townships, or school districts. The state Senate is considering a similar measure.

Nick Ciaramintaro is with the union AFL-CIO of Michigan. He told lawmakers that more power for emergency financial managers means less democracy for local governments. 

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Politics
4:28 pm
Tue February 22, 2011

Protests in Lansing

The Capitol in Lansing
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Update 4:28 p.m.

Rick Pluta, of the Michigan Public Radio Network, filed a report on the protests in Lansing saying they were organized by "public employee unions, and attracted state and local government workers as well as teachers who had a snow day." From Pluta's report:

They’re fighting against anti-union bills sponsored in the Michigan Legislature, and to show support for union rallies in Madison-Wisconsin and Colombus-Ohio.

Sally McNamara is a teacher in the Adrian Public Schools:

"I’m here supporting the children of our state and our nation. Are we in debt? Are we in trouble? You bet we’re in trouble. Is it really hard-working people who are driving us down in the gutters? No. It’s not."

Pluta says dozens of Tea Party protestors also gathered to rally in favor of the proposed budget cuts.

1:41 p.m.

Protestors came to Lansing today to voice their opinion on the proposed cuts by the Snyder administration and to protest bills in the Michigan legislature they see as anti-union.

The Detroit News reports that "unofficial estimates put attendance at close 1,000" people:

After a brief rally and march to the Capitol, members streamed across to the House office building to call on legislators, and about 200 construction workers poured into a hearing room where testimony was to be taken at noon on a bill to repeal prevailing wage requirements.

Members plan to cram the gallery of the House chambers this afternoon where lawmakers are slated to discuss bills that would grant authority to emergency financial managers to toss out collective bargaining contracts.

The Detroit Free Press says the protestors in Lansing were inspired by the protests taking place in Wisconsin:

Many protesters...said they thought Snyder's proposal was an attack on unions similar to a bill being pushed by Wisconsin's new Republican governor. They said they were inspired to turn out by eight straight days of protests that have drawn tens of thousands of people to the Wisconsin Capitol.

The Detroit News reported on Tea Party protestors who turned out in smaller numbers in Lansing today. They're supporting Governor Snyder's proposed cuts and some hope Snyder will take a similar stand on unions that the legislature is taking. From the Detroit News:

Tea party supporters Annamaria Evans of Clarkston, Pat Miller of South Haven and Jack Stone of Lake Orion said they want Michigan to end collective bargaining rights for public employees, just as Walker has proposed in Wisconsin.

Miller, a member of the Southwest Michigan Tea Party Patriots, said he wants to see Snyder get as tough on unions as the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature is.

Some of the signs spotted in Lansing:

  • "Recall Snyder"
  • "Don't Tax Grandma"
  • "Get Back to Work"
  • "I'm Not Getting Paid to Be Here"

And some of the chants:

Politics
3:22 pm
Tue February 22, 2011

Union members protest changes to Prevailing Wage law

The Michigan House of Representatives. Union members protested today in a State House committee room.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Hundreds of outraged union members filled a State House committee room and the surrounding hallways to protest a proposal to eliminate Michigan’s Prevailing Wage law. Many union members people began chanting and banging on the walls of the committee room.

Unions say the law makes sure workers are paid fairly and that union members get work.

Some Republicans want to get rid of the Prevailing Wage law, saying developers and contractors could save money on construction costs by making wages more competitive.

Jeff Mowry, a member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 333, says the proposal to get rid of the wage law is not a direct attack on the collective bargaining rights of unions, but it still tries to hurt unions. 

 "You know, that’s the scary part – everything gets very complicated and very confused but it sure seems like it’s all tied together. And it seems like this is just one piece of a great big puzzle that’s looking to take away our collective bargaining rights, yeah."

Some Republican lawmakers say eliminating the prevailing wage law would save about 10% on construction costs and could create more jobs in the state.

Chris Fischer with the Association of Builders and Contractors gave a presentation to lawmakers on how the state could save money by eliminating the wage law.

Fischer says the chanting was distracting, but he was not deterred.

"It is difficult to make a factual presentation when there’s a lot of white noise in the background. It is disconcerting, but the bottom line is prevailing wage does come at the expense of two things Michigan does not have right now – and that’s jobs and taxpayer dollars."

Union members were told they will be able to testify on the wage law when legislation is before the committee for a vote.

Politics
12:04 pm
Mon February 21, 2011

Unions to fight proposed state laws

As protests in Wisconsin continue, leaders of Michigan labor unions fight proposals in the Michigan Legislature
Mark Danielson Flickr

Leaders of Michigan labor unions are fighting proposals in the Michigan Legislature that they say would hurt collective bargaining rights. The Associated Press reports:

The Michigan AFL-CIO said Monday it opposes more than 30 bills pending in the Legislature including those that would give emergency financial managers of cities and schools the power to terminate labor union contracts. Unions representing public employees also are opposing bills that would change how binding arbitration works for police and fire departments.

Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney said some of the measures are an "assault" on the collective bargaining process that calls for unions and employers to negotiate contracts.

Union leaders also said they are concerned about some budget proposals from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, including measures they say hurt schools, the middle class and low-income residents.

Economy
12:48 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

Grand Rapids officials take pay cuts, hope unions will follow

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell says the city's financial future depends on employee concessions in pay and benefits.
Steven Depolo Flickr

Appointed officials in Grand Rapids agreed to scale back the wage increases they recently received.

In a press release, the City officials said they were "responding to Governor Rick Snyder's call for realigning public employee compensation."

City Manager Gregory Sundstrom, City Attorney Catherine Mish, and City Treasurer Lauri Parks said they will return to their salary levels that were in effect in 2009.

City Treasurer Albert Mooney agreed to return 2% of his salary increase.

The Grand Rapids Press reports that if their request is granted:

Sundstrom's pay will fall back to $142,000; Mish's pay will return to $114,092; Parks' pay will go back to $93.731; and Mooney's pay will fall to $108,755.

The officials said in 2010, "appointed officials again led by example, voluntarily accepting an additional 10% reduction in overall compensation." This included turning down a 2.5% pay increase that was scheduled to take effect on June 30, 2010.

The Grand Rapids officials say the the 2.5% pay increase was "received, and is still being enjoyed today,  by all of the City's unionized workforce."

The city is in the middle of re-negotiating it's collective contracts with the City's unionized workforce. And the negotiations are "difficult" as Mayor George Hearwell said in his State of the City address last Saturday.

As Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reported, Heartwell said:

The city’s financial future depends on city employees taking further concessions in pay and benefits.

"There’s no doubt in my mind that unless we tackle this problem today, we cannot be sustainable over the long term," says Heartwell.

The vast majority of the city's workforce in Grand Rapids is unionized.

I called up City Attorney Catherine Mish, one of the officials taking the pay cuts. I asked her whether she and the others are sending a signal to the city's unionized employees:

"I would have to say 'yes.' We're hoping the unions agree to similar concessions."

Mish said the unions are under current contracts that run from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2013.

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Auto
6:46 am
Mon January 17, 2011

UAW members head to D.C.

Members of the UAW union will attend a four-day legislative conference in Washington, D.C. beginning today
UAW

Members of the United Auto Workers union will be on Capitol Hill today in Washington, D.C.. Some 1,000 union members will be there for a four-day legislative meeting.  As the Associate Press reports:

They'll be hearing from UAW President Bob King on Monday on the start of the four-day conference. The Detroit News says King plans to talk about efforts to persuade non-U.S. automakers to make it easier to unionize their U.S. plants.

In a statement, the UAW said, those at the meeting will:

...discuss the union's legislative and political priorities for the coming year, meet with members of Congress to advocate on behalf of working families and prepare for the union's 2012 electoral campaign.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is expected to speak at the conference.

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