unions

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.

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.

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. 

Protests in Lansing

Feb 22, 2011
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:

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.

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.

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.

UAW members head to D.C.

Jan 17, 2011
Ray Holman of UAW Local 6000 says the ruling is a victory for state employees.
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.

The Mackinac Center’s for Public Policy’s Legal Foundation is filing a lawsuit against 10 Kent County school districts and their teachers’ union.

The suit is to be filed Wednesday on behalf of five taxpayers living near Grand Rapids. It claims the school districts are breaking state law by approving a contract that agrees not to privatize any services during the one-year agreement.

Patrick Wright directs the foundation. He says they want to make sure privatization remains a viable option for school districts across the state.

Joe Gratz / flickr/creative commons

A conservative group has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to hear a challenge to union dues paid by home-based child care providers.

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